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We have launched our new high altitude balloon flight planner. Using a Monte Carlo approach, the planner computes an ensemble of simulated flight paths, with appropriate distributions imposed on a variety of physical parameters (drag coefficient variations, balloon burst diameters, etc.). The latest weather forecast (high altitude wind, temperature and pressure profiles) is downloaded each time a simulation is run. By default, the simulator will assume that the balloon will rise until it bursts and then it descends on a parachute (a number of common balloon and parachute types can be selected from a database), though station keeping (floating) flights can also be simulated.

The simulation engine runs on a Windows Azure cloud server, enabling the use of the planner from low powered devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.).

The ASTRA team will present the detailed description of the model behind the planner at the forthcoming Decelerator / Balloon Systems Conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (to be held at the end of March in Daytona Beach, Florida).

The planner is free to use and can be accessed by visiting the ASTRA web pages and clicking on the Balloon Flight Planner link. 

 

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Can a stratospheric instrument platform be miniaturised to the extent that it can be carried aloft by a beach ball sized balloon? Our new radio transmitter, which today’s flight set out to test, weighs in at less than 30g, together with its 3d-printed housing. Together with this miniature payload, no dimension of the balloon exceeded 2m at any point during the ASTRA 13 flight, which, launched from Southampton, crossed the South Downs early this morning.

The transmitter, designed by PhD student Matt Brejza, worked perfectly throughout the 50 minute stratospheric hop, being tracked by the ASTRA transceiver station at the University of Southampton, as well as by our chase car (equipped with a portable receiver station and an antenna), which followed the ground track of the balloon through the South Downs. We collected the payload a few minutes after its touchdown, inside the 50 percentile contour plotted by the pre-flight Monte Carlo trajectory simulation, near the West Sussex town of Midhurst. Within four hours of the launch, the ASTRA team was back at the University of Southampton Highfield Campus.

The very small size of the balloon and the transmitter itself lends the system extreme flexibility in deployment, opening up the possibility of fast response, ad-hoc observations of short duration, transient meteorological phenomena.

 

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