Scientific Research


8th May 2012 Project ASTRA from Southampton University

Last month scientists from the University of Southampton launched a  Lumia 800 smart phone into the stratosphere as a tool to help create balloon flight trajectory prediction software that can then be used to guide other missions, like weather balloons. The ASTRAproject (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) is investigating new technologies for making low cost observations of the  parameters of the atmosphere.

Stephen Johnston and András Sóbester from the ASTRA project chose the Nokia Lumia 800 to be the “nerve center” of the ASTRA 10 series of flights, which took place in conjunction with the MetOffice.

“We knew the Lumia was very robust. With other phones we’ve had to include an extra battery and a heater. We didn’t need to do that with the Lumia – it was the best.”

test equipment

Balloon-based platforms need to know their location (GPS), communicate this information back to the ground crew so that they can follow and then retrieve the balloon, log data by recording the measurements taken by the instruments on board – and possibly take photographs.

They also need to be light enough to ascend to heights of 32 km above the earth, and robust enough to survive in temperatures of -70C, with atmospheric pressure a thousand times lower than on the ground.

On its flight the Lumia reached altitudes of 105,000 feet, and survived temperatures of -61C, remaining airborne for 2 hours and 22 minutes as it flew over South Wales and finally landed in Cornwall.

“The Lumia still had data connectivity at 8km above the earth, it’s definitely got a good aerial in there,” Sóbester says. Previous devices only maintained data connectivity up to 5km.


Along the way the Lumia recorded 2GB of imagery that are used in these amazing pictures of the journey, including shots of gravity wave clouds that are forced to rise and fall in a ripple pattern caused by the combination of stable air mass and gravity.

Without adapting any of the Lumia hardware, the ASTRA team developed an app to record GPS co-ordinates, acceleration and to take images. They hope to develop this further for other uses in tracking locations and journeys.

Sóbester says,“We didn’t do this for fun – we used the Nokia Lumia 800 as a serious scientific tool, and the results were remarkable.” I asked Andras if the balloon trajectory software would be made public and he said” Yes, we do aim to make the trajectory prediction tool publicly

available - we currently use version 1, version 2 is likely 
to be public, though at the moment I wouldn't be able to say 
exactly when that will be the case." I asked the same for the 
Windows phone app and he said "The same is generally true of 
the WP7 tracker app. This is already available on the Windows 
Phone Marketplace, though its integration with Azure is not 
completely public yet - again, watch this space..."


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