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Archive for March, 2012

ASTRA Cube into the sunset

ASTRA Cube into the sunset

 

A key goal of the ASTRA initiative is to reduce the development cycle time of a high altitude atmospheric research platform to mere days from specification (that is, the definition of the space, weight, power and exposure requirements of the instruments to be flown) to test flight.

The ASTRA Cube demonstrator was conceived to test two key rapid prototyping technologies we aim to use towards this goal: additive manufacturing and rapid electronic prototyping. ABS-based 3d printing represented the former here, while for the latter we used .NET Gadgeteer (an open-source toolkit for building small electronic devices using the .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio/Visual C# Express).

Launched from a MetOffice research facility, during its stratospheric flight lasting just over 4 hours ASTRA 12 reached a peak altitude of just under 35km (~115,000 feet), during which it recorded temperature (dipping to -61C), pressure, humidity and images, as well as key parameters of its trajectory. The imagery captured by the small Gadgeteer camera included the sunset picture shown above, which, incidentally, also depicts the gravity waves picked up three hours earlier by ASTRA 10.

The clip below illustrates the rapid development process which the ASTRA Cube resulted from.

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ASTRA 10 captures images of gravity waves

ASTRA 10 captures images of gravity waves

ASTRA 10 was one of a series of flights designed to provide calibration data for the ASTRA balloon trajectory simulation code.

The flight, conducted in collaboration with the MetOffice, was also aimed at testing the feasibility of using a Nokia Lumia 800 smartphone (running the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system) as a communications, tracking, data logging and imaging device.

Airborne for 2 hours and 22 minutes, ASTRA 10 reached an apogee altitude of over 32km (~105,000 feet), and, in addition to trajectory data, it captured over 2GB worth of imagery, including shots of gravity wave clouds above South Wales. These are generated by an airmass being forced to rise in a stable atmosphere. Eventually gravity will bring the airmass back down, but it will overshoot its equilibrium height, rising once again – this process repeating multiple times creates the ripple effect seen on the picture below.

 

Internal Gravity Waves - Gravity wave clouds, as seen by ASTRA 10.

Internal Gravity Waves – Gravity wave clouds, as seen by ASTRA 10.

Payload train - ASTRA 10 ready for launch.

Payload train – ASTRA 10 ready for launch.

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The new ASTRA glider undergoes air-launch tests

The new ASTRA glider undergoes air-launch tests

The latest iteration of the ASTRA atmospheric research glider flew from a series of air-launches this morning. Carried aloft by a larger (powered) ‘mother ship’, the glider successfully completed a number of flights over a cold and misty Southern Hampshire.

Glider released at the top of the climb.

Glider released at the top of the climb.

Release!

Glider released at the top of the climb.

Designed for robustness and versatility, the glider has a release mechanism, which enables flights from high altitude balloons. On this occasion the powered RC mother ship was used as a low cost alternative to the multiple balloons such testing would have required.

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