October was a busy month for commercial spaceflight! Not only did SpaceX complete its first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, but Nanosatisfi completed its first successful high-altitude test of the ArduSat payload. Since the first high-altitude test didn’t get off the ground, this mission was a big moment for the Nanosatisfi team.
Nanosatisfi partnered with Colorado Springs based Edge Research Lab to send its sensor payload to the edge of space on Saturday, October 27. The mission launched from Monument, Colorado, a town already 2.1 km above sea level, and flew towards space underneath a 1600 g high-altitude Hwoyee meteorological balloon.
The entire flight apparatus massed approximately 4.3 kg, about the mass of two freshman physics textbooks. Once filled with hydrogen gas, the balloon provided 56 N of lift at the neck. After making sure that tracking information and flight telemetry were being received, the group called the local air traffic controller and waited for FAA clearance. The balloon was released at 12:00 noon CDT (10:00 am local time) and proceeded to rise through the atmosphere for close to an hour.
The balloon climbed to an altitude of nearly 26 km before bursting at 12:56 CDT. Slowed only by a small drag parachute, the ArduSat sensor payload fell back to Earth. About 40 minutes later, at 1:33 PM CDT, the payload landed approximately 129 km from the launch site. The payload was recovered about 25 km south of the intersection of State Highway 94 and State Highway 71 (aka Punkin Center). A summary video of the entire mission from the perspective of the sensor payload can be viewed below:
The video was shot using two cameras, one pointed at the horizon and one at the balloon. At least one of these cameras was a HackHD camera, a small camera advertised to shoot 1080p video at 30 fps. Both cameras are owned and operated by Edge Research Lab, and neither are a part of the ArduSat payload.
Pictured above is a three-dimensional representation of the ArduSat payload flight path. The relatively heavy sensor payload meant that the balloon needed to be filled with more gas (you can see in the video that the ArduSat balloon is much more inflated), which in turn led to a low bursting altitude. Balloons with lighter payloads can be filled with less gas and achieve a higher altitude before bursting, between 40 and 50 kilometers. The ArduSat payload reached a maximum speed of about 54 m/s, or 193 km/hr, over the course of its flight.
After recovery, the ArduSat team announced happily that the sensor payload was intact and functional. They have released a picture of what appears to be Pike’s Peak, taken from the sensor payload’s camera, and confirmed the collection of payload sensor data. The team promised a more in-depth analysis of the payload sensor data “coming soon,” and followed up with a Kickstarter update on November 5. Unfortunately, the update provided little in the way of details concerning the outcome of the flight’s sample programs and sensor tests.