The goal: send a payload to near-space using a high-altitude balloon (HAB or weather balloon), collect data and pictures, and recover the payload.
Sounds pretty simple, right? In its most basic form, it is. A special balloon is filled with helium gas, rises to an altitude at which point the balloon has far-exceeded its original size, the balloon bursts, and the payload parachutes back to Earth.
However, one of the HAARPP mission's main objectives is to maintain constant contact with the payload to monitor data elements such as latitude, longitude, altitude, velocity, etc. This type of telemetry has been done before, but there are problems and risks that can be minimized using platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. The existing technologies can:
Lose communication very easily. Near-space objects can easily exceed altitudes of 60,000ft. Radios with enough power are too heavy to lift; especially considering the entire payload will be around 4 pounds. Radios that are small enough and light enough don't reach Earth when they're above a certain height. Plus, the US has the FCC. HAARPP doesn't want to deviate from any US regulations. The 60,000ft mentioned earlier is also significant because some GPS units won't function over 60,000ft. Google "COCOM" and you'll see why... But the right unit will work at that altitude and still be "COCOM-compliant." One option would be amateur radio, but a nice bonus of HAARPP is that it won't require a license and, therefore, make HAB more accessible.
Use too many components. Keeping it simple is essential. There are many well-documented HAB flights and videos, pictures, and instructions on how they did it, but many times the project team didn't think outside the box. Projects would just use a cell phone to send text messages with the payload position. That works (except the cell phone is very quickly out of range and will have no signal), but the interface between the GPS unit and the cell phone is an old box that was laying around that was re-purposed. Too many components can lead to failure. Having an "out of the box" platform that can be used as-is for fun, or can be further developed for special purposes will lead to increased interest in the activity and can let teams focus on the purpose of the mission rather than how to get there.
Break laws. Cell phones shouldn't be used at 100,000ft. They won't work and it's trying to reach a few hundred or thousand towers. Using a frequency for transmission that's overpowered or not approved for this purpose is against FCC regulations and could have really bad effects. Imagine broadcasting from near-space on 121.5MHz from a 10W radio. That'd be bad... HAARPP will comply with FCC regulations and FAA guidelines. Wouldn't it be great to have a one-stop-resource for HAB in the US? Some day maybe another Kickstarter project for an Arduino/Raspberry Pi mesh that could be used similar to ARPS, but without the licensing restrictions. Just plug in the Pi and receive to help out the HAB community.
Reach a high-altitude using existing high-altitude balloon (HAB) products. A specially-designed weather balloon is filled with the needed volume of helium to lift the payload. As the balloon climbs, the gas expands until the balloon reaches burst altitude. From there, the payload will begin a descent back to Earth. The descent is lessened by a parachute. Balloon flights will be within FAA guidelines and appropriate notifications and NOTAMs will be filed.
Develop an open source payload platform to capture data. A sensor array has already been developed and tested for proof of concept. The platform developed using Kickstarter funds will use instruments and components that will accurately measure and store data relating to temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, 3-axis movement, and orientation. This will allow for flight and scientific data analysis.
Track the flight from the ground -- from launch to touchdown. Again, this has been developed and tested for proof of concept. However, the GPS and radios used for development and testing have technical limitations. For example, the 433MHz transmitter and GPS module powered by one Arduino UNO successfully transmitted NMEA sentences to a separate Arduino UNO 433MHz receiver. However, the transmitter and receivers used only have a range of a few feet. HAARPP telemetry will use the 900MHz band and will have a range of 28-40 miles. This will comply with FCC regulations. The GPS module also has a 60,000ft limit. The module that has been incorporated into the HAARPP specifications implements COCOM restrictions differently, but still within regulations. This will allow for real-time tracking throughout flight.
Capture amazing video and still photographs. This will require cameras that are built for the extremes in near-space flight. The HAARPP specifications also incorporate one camera that will record video with a data overlay so elements such as latitude, longitude, and altitude can be viewed along with the actual video. Still images will be captured at specified intervals.
Have a backup plan for recovering the payload. In an ideal world, everything we build will work exactly as we want it to and we will not have any issues. But sometimes things aren't so simple. An existing method for knowing the position of touchdown is incorporated into the HAARPP specifications to retrieve the payload should all other methods fail.
Document, share, and grow. We want to share the knowledge of our project so others can benefit from it. Every schematic, line of code, and hardware decision will be documented. This will allow others to utilize similar methods for their high-altitude projects. It will also allow for expansion of the already-existing platform. Open source hardware and software can be built upon in the future to create a HAARPP 2.0, 3.0 and beyond! The documentation and platform created can also be leveraged to build a network of terrestrial stations that can assist in tracking flights, for example. There are possibilities that we can't even think of!
Through November, 2013 - Fundraising
November - December, 2013 - Hardware purchasing
December, 2013 - February, 2014 - Hardware and software development
February, 2014 - Testing using tethered balloons at low altitudes. Communication and telemetry platform range testing.
March, 2014 - Launch of HAARPP-1!
Where we are now
Sensor Array: $222
Payload Recovery Backup: $120
NOT Payroll, Rent, etc.
The open source nature of Arduino and Raspberry Pi create the perfect environment for this development. The HAARPP team has already developed working prototypes (see above) of a communication platform and sensor array. All that's left is putting it all together in a way that will withstand the rigors of the voyage, collect accurate data, take some amazing high-resolution video and pictures, and get the payload back!
So far, the team has proven everything concept using components and prototyping boards that are readily accessible, but are not of the quality needed. This project requires the appropriate components for communication, telemetry, photography, and recovery. It will all be tested before the maiden voyage, of course, because failure in-flight is not an option! Please note that the goal of this project is not to mass-produce and/or sell an Arduino/Raspberry Pi platform for HAB, but rather to document the experience, the steps, and the outcome so others can easily replicate the process. Further projects may also include a terrestrial network for tracking without using amateur radio. This type of network would be developed on the same Arduino/Raspberry Pi platform and would allow interested parties to participate in HAB flights by active and/or passive tracking to assist flight teams. This would be similar, but less restrictive than, the existing ARPS.
The budget for this project was reached by researching the best component for each of the mission's functions. It is roughly evenly divided between telemetry, sensor array, photography, backup recovery, and payload compartment/vehicle. By supporting this project through Kickstarter, you can help HAARPP produce the final product and send it on its way. From there, there is no limit!
The platform used thus far has utilized components that are similar, but of a lower quality, than the components that will be used in HAARPP's first flight. There will likely need to be changes to code to make all components work in harmony, and there may even been a possibility that the approach used for a certain component will not work with a high-grade model. We're resourceful, though, and can mitigate that risk by always having a plan B.
Documentation of process is key. Our final deliverable product will be documentation and possibly even a ready-to-fly platform. In our work so far, we have found that many projects are well-documented at first, but not maintained over time. We hope to continue to refine our product as technology improves and new options become available and old ones become obsolete. There have also been gaps in documentation -- some around key systems -- that we have seen in other projects. We hope to avoid that and document down to every component's data sheet so every subsystem has reference for the HAB community.
With your help, we'll work to provide the HAB community with a comprehensive platform that is open source, extensible, customizable, and future-proof, but doesn't require reinventing the wheel. We'd really like to take on the challenge of having an FCC-compliant Arduino/Raspberry Pi appliance that can just hang out in homes and actively track HAB flights without any user/owner intervention. It's possible -- it just takes YOUR support!
Important notices and disclaimers:
The funds raised for this project will only be applied to the project. This project has no employees and no personnel will be compensated. The funds applied to the project from Kickstarter will be used for hardware and other physical components of the project as specified by the HAARPP specifications. Funds received in excess of the target will be used for more extensive development or may be applied to further endeavors within the same area of application.
Raspberry Pi is a registered trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The "RP" in HAARPP stands for Raspberry Pi. This is only a project using Raspberry Pi, not a project to manufacturer, sell, modify or otherwise represent association with the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Arduino is a registered trademark of Arduino SA. The Arduino logo is copyright of Arduino SA. The second "A" in HAARPP stands for Arduino. This is only a project using the Arduino open source hardware platform. This project is not a company and will not manufacturer, sell, modify or otherwise represent association with Arduino SA.
Further, HAARPP is not a company but a project. Our intent with this project is to simply use the Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms as integral components for success.
The prototype pictures indicate 433MHz, but HAARPP will actually use the 900MHz (33-cm) band. We are located in the United States (ITU Region 2) and can transmit at a power of up to 1 Watt. The specs for the actual project implementation will use Digi XTend OEM RF Long-Range Modules. With high-gain antennae, range should not be an issue. 900MHz is also an unlicensed band in the US, so there no are license requirements as long as we stay within those parameters.
Exospheric - Attend the first launch of HAARPP (does not include travel and/or other accommodations.) The launch will be in southeastern Pennsylvania in March, 2014. You will also receive a DVD of the launch and full video of the entire flight and recovery. The DVD will also include still photographs captured and raw data from sensor array and telemetry platform.