High-Altitude Ballooning

Send experimental hardware, scientific experiments, and cameras up to 30 kilometres above the ground! High-altitude ballooning allows us to reach altitudes that we won’t get to by rocket for a few more years. Our HAB team is currently working on a basic GPS tracker for a high-altitude balloon, which will send position updates by radio and GSM (that’s text messages to you and me).


Stay tuned for exciting pictures from the upper atmosphere!

Welcome to the Mile Pi Club

The HAB team is getting together with a group from the Computing Society to work on a joint ballooning project! As you may have guessed from the name, the payload on the first launch will be the always-popular Raspberry Pi. On its first flight, it’ll be connected to:

  • A GPS module. You’ve got to be careful when choosing these: consumer-grade GPS modules are designed to stop working if they think they’re on an intercontinental ballistic missile, and have different ways of deciding whether they are. Pick the wrong one, and it’ll panic and shut down simply by going too high.
  • A GSM module, which will attempt to text us the landing coordinates once the payload has descended close enough to the ground to pick up a mobile phone signal. Of course, the balloon will spend most of its flight too high above the ground to pick up the network, and the payload might land in a remote area with no signal, which is why it’ll also have…
  • A radio transmitter, to send us GPS coordinates and photos while the balloon is flying.
  • Speaking of photos, there’s a camera module to record video of the flight, which will also occasionally send pictures back to us on the ground.

Becky’s currently working on a cosmic ray detector that might also fly on this balloon, so we might be doing some actual science as well as taking pretty pictures! (On the other hand, it might be more sensible to fly the cosmic ray detector on the second flight, once we’ve had some practice and are less likely to lose the payload…)

Stay tuned for updates on this blog about what the joint ballooning team is up to! If you’re really keen and want to follow the project’s progress in minute detail, the code is all on Github.

We Have Parts For A GPS Tracker!

After completing some initial designs and ordering some very important parts for the High Altitude Balloon, the electronics for the GPS tracker have arrived!

This will be used so we can track the balloon on the way up, and hopefully on it’s journey back down to earth (we really don’t want to lose it like James May did in his attempt to get an Action Man past Mach 1):

Our tracker doesn’t quite work the same way as that, but it’s funny nonetheless and gives you an idea of how some of these things work.

You can see some of the components of our GPS tracker below:

Some components for the simple high-altitude balloon tracker.

Some components for the simple high-altitude balloon tracker.

We’ll be assembling them, with all the fancy electronics, in a couple of weeks.

Wish us luck!