ArduSat Test Flight Scrubbed

In the week leading up to the first test flight of the ArduSat sensor payload and flight computer, Jeroen and Joel from NanoSatisfi and Monroe from Team Prometheus converged in Lampasas, Texas, for preparations. But after a week of work, the flight was unable to execute as planned.

After arriving in Lampasas, Joel and Jeroen began work on Sunday, September 16. While Jeroen worked on the sensor payload, Joel focused on building the web portal and constructing a ground station for tracking the balloon. Monroe focused on the broadcasting equipment for the balloon so that the mission could be streamed live.

The prototype sensor payload (left) with an Arduino (right)

Most of the engineering problems encountered by the team throughout the week were quickly conquered. Jeroen began by ensuring that the payload’s sensor polling worked correctly, then went on to fix issues with sensor data logging on the SD card. Towards the end of the week, he tested the sensor payload with a 2.4 GHz radio, confirming that the data was being properly transmitted to the receiving station.

Monroe's motorized camera mount

Monroe focused on constructing a camera mount and motor assembly so that viewers could see the sensor payload, balloon, and a view of the Earth during the test flight. Once finished, he went on to construct the ground antenna and on-board 900 MHz antennas for transmitting video from the mounted camera. Monroe also kept an eye on the site’s live chat throughout the week.

The frame for the motorized telescope and antennas rig

Aside from posting updates, Joel spent the week outside building a motorized telescope and antenna rig. Using ArduPilot software, the rig turns (using repurposed car window motors) to follow the balloon and receive/transmit signals. There were some challenges with the rig’s construction; the gears often slipped since no metal parts could be used, or else they might interfere with the antennas for the three separate radio links.

The week progressed smoothly right up to launch. Saturday morning, Team Prometheus’s tank of helium was found empty, and no local suppliers had helium or hydrogen available. John Johns, a resident of Dallas who had volunteered to drive down with his high end video equipment and extra helium, also found his tank empty.

As a result, the team had no air with which to fill their high-altitude balloon. Unfortunately, the launch could not be rescheduled since Joel and Jeroen’s flights home had already been set. So much for staying on schedule! The ArduSat team is regrouping and will release a revised plan within the next month. The next scheduled test flight is currently slated for October.

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