Medway Balloon Society is dedicated to the collaborative and iterative process of building and launching high altitude balloons to the edge of space to take instrumentation readings, record video footage, and conduct experiments. This club provides the opportunity to work on advanced and professionally applicable engineering projects in an informal, unstructured setting.
Sign up for the Discord server to recieve daily updates about current payloads as well as to share and communicate with other members. Discord is such a great way to keep in touch day-to-day as projects are being worked on. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a Discord invite.
Join us in the Makerspace for regular engineering jam sessions and meetings on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.
Note: The following are behind a paywall
Weather Balloon 3 (WB 3)
Currently being built
New systems and improvements being worked on for WB3 include:
Weather Balloon 2.5 (WB 2.5) - Launched June 24th, 2021
Because the payload box of WB 2 seemed to still be in pretty good shape, it was decided to fix up the sensors and fix the SD card issue and fly the payload again. The raspberry pi camera system was rebuilt as well to be more stable. This payload was successfully tracked and recovered. This time, there video footage and temperature sensor readings were successfully recorded onto the SD card. However, the Raspberry Pi mysteriously stopped recording near burst altitude. Latest theory is that the jolt from the burst knocked the SD card loose.
Weather Balloon 2 (WB 2) - Launched June 7th, 2021
Lessons were learned after the first launch. Max earned his radio license (and upgraded it to the General level) in order to use a radio transmitter. This payload contained a homemade pi camera. It was also programmed to record weather sensor readings (temperature/pressure/altitude). However, at the launch, the sensors were causing problems, so it was decided to disable these sensors and allow the balloon to fly with just the camera. This payload flew with two different radio trackers. It was tracked and recovered from the tree it landed in. Upon retrieval, it was learned that the SD card was actually full from a previous test of the electronics. Only 10 seconds of new footage was on the card. This payload also had a theme - Among Us stickers were on the box and a 3D printed character was attached to popsicle sticks and put in the foreground of the camera.
Weather Balloon 1 (WB 1) - Launched November 28th, 2020
This was the first foray into the world of high altitude balloons. Neither a good quality GPS tracker nor a radio transmitter were used, so this balloon was never recovered. This payload flew with a homemade pi camera, programmed to save periodic still images every couple seconds.
Check out the LORA test:
Check out the nichrome wire test:
Watch the video for WB 1 (see how far we have come!):
Watch the Medway Balloon Society presentation for the WB2 launch party:
As with all engineering projects, the lessons learned from our failures are often more valuable than the successes. Here is a catalogue of some of these learnings so far from previous projects.
Since the balloon payload box was lost at around 9,000 ft and never recovered, this launch taught us the importance of a solid tracking system. Also lessons were learned about using "party store" helium, which has a very low purity.
There were a lot of lessons/questions from this launch! This balloon was actually intended to launch on June 5. There was an electronics issue at the launch site, and there was no way to access the code on the Raspberry Pi, so the launch was aborted. This taught us the importance of using SSH to be able to access the Pi and change the code on site, which was used on the actual launch for WB2. After launch, we learned that it would be super helpful to have a cut-down system (as the balloon had landed in a tree). We also learned the importance of checking the SD card thoroughly. Another issue that occurred with this launch was actually Max’s tracker. It stopped transmitting at about 40,000 feet (this happens with lots of GPS modules) and then resumed once it descended to that height again. Hojo found a code solution to initialize the UBlox GPS module in "airborne" mode.
Yet another issue with this launch was the burst altitude of the balloon. It was much lower than expected. The balloon also used more helium than expected. One thing to do in the future is use a counterweight to more properly calculate the positive lift. Also, the balloon supplier was questioned, as the balloon had some questionable attributes.
We also learned how important it is to have backups of key supplies. From radio transmitters shipping from the UK to SD cards and using Github, having multiples of key parts and backups of information is crucial.
Yet another lesson-filled launch! As this balloon landed in a tree again, it really drove home the importance of a cut-down system and more robust recovery supplies. Max’s tracker stopped transmitting similarly to WB 2, however, it stopped even earlier than before. Hojo discovered after the fact that an extra delay needed to be added to the UBlox initialization code. The balloon also burst earlier than expected (same balloon supplier as the previous launch - future launches will use a different brand!). The balloon had visible defects, discoloration, and seams. This also contributed to it landing in a forest instead of farmland as had been predicted. Another mystery was that the video stopped recording after an hour and a half. It is possible that the burst of the balloon jostled something. Luckily, the footage and data that was on the card was good up until that point, so we will attempt to stabalize things even better when mounting in the future, particularly the SD card. The raw footage was also red-tinged due to an auto white balance issue. In the future, we will be sure to add code to allow the camera to be manually white balanced.