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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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ASTRA balloon tracking station testing and Masat-1

ASTRA balloon tracking station testing and Masat-1

We have spent the last few days testing our new high altitude balloon tracking station. In the absence of any scheduled balloon flights (due to unfavourable jetstream conditions above the British isles) we tracked Masat-1, a 1U-class CubeSat nano-satellite built by our colleagues at the Technical University of Budapest (BME) and launched earlier this month on the maiden flight of ESA’s new light launch vehicle (Vega).

Masat-1 Satellite telemetry window and orbit displays.

Masat-1 Satellite telemetry window and orbit displays.

Masat-1

Satellite telemetry window and orbit displays.

Masat-1, transmitting in the 70cm band, was an ideal ‘surrogate’ for our balloon transmitters, which we plan to fly in the near future as part of a series of student projects, as well as stratospheric research missions (ironically, the Masat-1 team had used a balloon flight to test their tracking station prior to the launch of the CubeSat!). Click on the image to see some of the decoded telemetry from the small spacecraft, as well as the orbital characteristics of the last few passes above our station.

First flight of the ASTRA Atom 1 thwarted by high winds

First flight of the ASTRA Atom 1 thwarted by high winds

The maiden flight of the ASTRA Atom 1, a balloon-borne, fully rapid protyped platform (even its electronic systems were built from .net Gadgeteer building blocks) will now take place at a later date – 20 knot surface winds with 30 knot gusts made for very unfavourable conditions today. Watch this space for new dates for the first flight.

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BALUGA One balloon release testing

BALUGA One balloon release testing

BALUGA One (Balloon- or Aircraft Launched Unmanned Glider for Atmospheric research One), our new, high altitude instrument platform underwent initial trials at the MetOffice Research Unit at Cardington.

Conducted using a tethered balloon (operated by the MetOffice), the balloon attachment system, as well as the balloon release mechanism of the new ASTRA glider was tested. With a release weight of 2kg, BALUGA One is designed to be launched from a high altitude, free balloon. Fitted with a sophisticated autopilot, BALUGA One is capable of returning its payload package to the launch location (or some other pre-determined collection site). See the Documents and Publications section for more details on the glider.

ASTRA 8 - farther, longer, higher

ASTRA 8 – farther, longer, higher

ASTRA 8 used largely the same hardware as ASTRA 7, based on an HTC Trophy smartphone running Windows Phone 7. Its goal was to push the technology demonstrated by ASTRA 7 further by exposing the vehicle to stratospheric conditions for longer and at a higher altitude.

ASTRA 8 reached a maximum altitude of just over 23,200 meters (76,115 feet) during its 2h 40′ flight. The maximum groundspeed reached by ASTRA 8 was around 45knots (~23m/s) as the balloon-borne flight train was traversing the jet stream. The above image, generated using the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope, shows the trajectory of ASTRA 8 as recorded by the phone (green trace) and as predicted by the balloon flight modeling software developed by the ASTRA team.

ASTRA 7 - cloud computing from beyond the cloud

ASTRA 7 – cloud computing from beyond the cloud

ASTRA 7 was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of using a low-powered, lightweight commodity device (an HTC Trophy running Windows Phone 7) as a data logger, communications link and a portal to high performance computing resources in the cloud (through Windows Azure).

ASTRA 7 reached a maximum altitude of 18,237 meters during its 1h 16′ flight. The Segoz Logger apprunning on the WP7 operated, as designed, throughout the flight, providing location notifications to Windows Azure when in GSM range (with the Azure worker re-computing the forecast landing site each time). The maximum speed reached by ASTRA 7 was around 90mph, logged at an altitude of 10.1km, as the balloon-borne flight train was traversing the jet stream. ASTRA 7 landed 46.6 miles downrange (very close to the pre-flight prediction based on the ASTRA balloon flight simulation model of 47.7 miles). ASTRA 7 also took over 1200 photos during its flight (one of which is shown above).

The launch was covered in the press by Computer Weekly (more images) and by the Guardian.

StratoShuttle 1

StratoShuttle 1

StratoShuttle 1

The StratoShuttle 1 pod, launched from Cheesefoot Head (near Winchester) on 28.11.2011, was the result of a Faculty of Engineering and the Environment fourth year student group design project. The aim was to lift a small instrument package into the stratosphere using a helium balloon (the pod carried a camera, which took the images shown above).

The secondary goal was to validate our trajectory prediction models, which, given an up-to-date atmospheric sounding (performed shortly before the launch) generated a forecast of the flight path of StratoShuttle 1. This flight also served as a test of our payload retrieval technology (once the balloon reaches its bursting altitude, the payload descends on a parachute, at the same time drifting in a direction and over a distance determined by the winds aloft).