Tuesday, 25 August 2015

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 - We've got the data!



Following the euphoria of the Eggsplorer-1 payload being found six weeks after launch washed up and retrieved from the beach in Terschelling, Netherlands it has been an agonising wait to see what the Dutch police would send back. My impatience got the better of me last week and I contacted them directly to be told that unfortunately due to the awful smell and condition of the box they had simply removed the memory card and had posted that back as requested.

More days past and I was beginning to think irony was going to play a cruel trick and the card after its fantastical journey would end up lost in the post. I shouldn't have been so pessimistic as it arrived today! Along with the card was a detailed map showing the final location and labels from the side of the box.



There was a nice note from the police.


The SD memory card seemed to have had survived more or less intact, though there was some corrosion on the contacts and crucially a small corner of the card was broken off.



The plan was to use the Win32 Disk Imager program to make a direct raw image of the card and work on that copy. I first used a small wad of wire wool to gently clean up the contacts

I was encouraged when I inserted the card into my Microsoft Windows laptop and it was detected, however my heart sank when any attempt to access it or use the imager program was met with an error. I gave it another gentle going over with the wire wool and thankfully was then able to make a image file, the next stage was to extract the precious data.

The card of course contained the Linux based Raspberry Pi file system and in order to access it on a Windows machine I used the freeware linux-reader from DiskInternals which allows access to Ext2/Ext3/Ext4, HFS and ReiserFS file systems within Windows.

It was a simple case of using the "mount image file" option and the partitions were then accessible and everything appeared intact, there were images on the card unfortunately not the "egg in space" image I wanted, just some nice "egg in the clouds" shots.



The telemetry log file confirmed the worst, the flight computer had indeed stopped/crashed at approx 2.5km up and no further images had been captured of the 31km accent into the stratosphere (confirmed by the backup tracker) I had hoped the transmission had stopped because of a fault in the antenna or the radio module board alas this wasn't the case.

On the day of the launch I did have problems with the payload not booting up. It had worked flawlessly under test the previous weeks and I had secured everything in the box ready for the flight. The day before the launch I had spotted there was another balloon going up in the UK at the same time and we had both opted for the same frequency. So at the eleventh hour I was forced to take out the SD card to change the configuration to prevent the transmission clash.

The launch day start up problem was the SD card. I had removed and reinserted it to get it to start up and secured it down with plenty of gaffa tape. Looking at the card now and the fact the broken corner is old damage I am convinced this is the reason for the failure as the card may well have become dislodged due to turbulence.

While slightly disappointed it is still a miracle I have any images at all and can only thank Jan and the Dutch Police again.

I have certainly learned a lot and hope the National Hamfest HAB that I and South Kesteven ARS are flying is more successful




Sunday, 9 August 2015

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 FOUND!

The payload for the MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 High Altitude Balloon that I and the SKARS team launched in June has been located washed up on a beach in the Netherlands. Amazingly the egg was still intact inside the capsule.


On Friday evening I went to the Hucknall Rolls Royce ARC to give a presentation of HAB flights including details of the Eggsplorer-1 launch and its subsequent apparent loss at sea, then yesterday we had a trip to North Yorkshire and visited the Boon Hill Show and I admired the display of eggs within the produce tent.


It must have been synchronicity since a few hours later despite the poor mobile phone coverage I spotted a message on my mobile phone. It was from Jan Wouter Kramer from the Netherlands, whilst out on a remote beach in Terschelling he had found the Eggsplorer-1 washed up and taken some photographs!

Nearly six weeks to the day after launch she had been found with the egg apparently intact! I tried several times to ring back but the poor mobile coverage prevented it so sent a text message hoping it would reach him. I couldn't wait to get home to and finally did just before midnight.

I frantically logged on to check emails
Hey Andrew

Found your email on the site.
These are the pics we made.

We found it today about 14:00 during a walk on the beach of Terschelling in an area were not many people are walking because it's more than a two hours walk from the nearest houses.

As you can see the egg wasn't damaged but had probably lost it's strength. While trying to investigate what was inside the 'bulb' it broke open and the egg broke in two parts. It was nearly empty. Only a few cc of dark 'water' was left in it with a terrible smell .......

Best Regards !

Jan Wouter Kramer
The pictures were amazing






I emailed Jan back as far too late in the night to telephone
Hi Jan, 
Sorry I was able to take your call this afternoon but was out of coverage for most of the day.

Thank you very much for the information and pictures of the Eggsplorer-1. It was our first ever balloon flight and after it landed in the sea I thought we would never see it again.
Amazingly it appears very much intact, shame about the egg being rancid, would really have liked to get it back and would have paid for shipping - but I can imagine the smell was awful.
The Raspberry PI circuit board inside the box had a SD memory card which was held down with gaffa tape, I am not sure if it is still attached and it may have contained some photos of the flight taken with the onboard camera. However given the remoteness of the payload I understand if it is too far to return for such a slim chance.
Regards
Andrew Garratt (M0NRD)
As I wrote given the remoteness and the rancid condition of the egg I couldn't really expect Jan to go out again to collect it but had a fantastic text message this morning
Hi Andrew, thanks for your email. The good news is that I found the local police willing to pick up the remains of the eggsplorer. (They are allowed to drive on the beach by 4x4) I just got a phonecall that they found it and are willing to send it back to you.
So you have an address for me ??
Best regards
Jan Wouter
As you can imagine I am totally EGGSTATIC!!

I rang Jan this morning and had a great conversation, seems he visits here every year and goes beach-combing with his son, they have never found anything quite as exciting as this!


So MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 has traveled 31km into the stratosphere, landed in the sea and traveled approximately 370km from launch site to its final resting place on the beach. The World Egg Throwing Championship people are very eggcited.

Just hoping that there are some photos on the card if it has survived, cannot be sure from Jan's photographs. Since the flight I have suspected two possible fault scenarios, bad connector on the SD card on the Raspberry Pi or the antenna was broken off due to the backup tracker suspended underneath. I am hoping it was the latter and the card is recoverable and readable since it would contain pictures.

The backup tracker is also there but has lost its polystyrene egg cover, gps-antenna and battery pack but can see it is still attached to the main payload. The question is how long it has been on the beach? Given the relatively good condition of the box and the labels are still attached it may have been quite soon after splash down.

I am indebted to Jan for taking the trouble of contacting me and the police, I can't thank him enough! When I get the payload back I will post an update.

All the members of SKARS are eggcited and gives new impetus for the National Hamfest flight next month.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sneeking off to track a HAB

Following our sojourn to Scotland we spent this weekend visiting and catching up with the relatives, as a result radio activity was a little limited.

Yesterday we were visiting my mother-in-law and I had seen that the University of Southampton Spaceflight Society were launching a High Altitude Balloon from the New Forest. I am never one to miss the chance to track them and decided at the last minute to throw the Alinco DJ-X10 receiver and an audio lead into the bag with the laptop which by happy coincidence we were taking since it contained the holiday photographs.

After an enjoyable Sunday lunch I dutifully did the washing up and then as the others succumbed to postprandial somnolence I sneaked off to see if I could receive anything as the flight was already well under way.

I put the Alinco on an upstairs windowsill with the W-881 Watson Super Gainer antenna fitted. The radio which has SSB capability was still tuned to 434.650MHz as this was the frequency I used on the EGG1 tracker and amazingly I heard clear RTTY telemetry of the CHRISHAB tracker and connecting it to the laptop with a simple earphone-to-microphone input lead was getting clear decodes.


Being a silver surfer my mother-in-law has a broadband connection so was able to upload the packets to the tracker system.


I left it running while I returned to be sociable. When I checked back later the flight had ended but I was more than happy with the number of decodes I had achieved with this modest set up and proves with all things radio it pays sometimes just to give it a try!



The previous day I visited my mother and got to try my brother's very nice new Yaesu VX-8R hand held. I made a short QSO with MX0PPC the Central Amateur Radio Circle (CARC) who were running some intermediate classes that afternoon. My brother is getting to grips with it and its in built APRS and GPS and soon hopes to be spotted by the International Space Station digipeater.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

National Hamfest Balloon Launch

Following my maiden high altitude balloon launch last month of MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 at the World Egg Throwing Championships I have agreed to attempt another launch at this years National Hamfest which takes place on the 25th-26th of September at the Newark Showground.


Once again I will be assisted by the members of South Kesteven ARS and hopefully this time it won't end up splashing down and being lost at sea.

I intend to have a SSDV system running on a Raspberry Pi using the usual UKHAS RTTY protocol and possibly this time a LoRA transmitter which allows faster transmission and higher resolution, however this requires ground stations to use a LoRA receiver, this are straightforward to build. I have done some experiments with the code base developed by Dave Akerman but didn't implement them in the Eggsplorer-1

As to any special payload? Well following the yokes about "Ham n Eggs" following the sending of an egg in the stratosphere, who knows....?


Anyone interested in joining South Kesteven ARS and being involved then contact me via the club website at www.skars.co.uk or our facebook page

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Radio antics on the Inner Hebrides

I have just returned from a much needed break away to the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, consisting of a week on the Isle of Skye and then a week on Islay.

It was our fourth visit to Skye but Islay was a new destination for us. While it was primarily a holiday away with the wife and dogs doing some walking, sight-seeing, visiting the numerous malt whisky distilleries (especially on Islay and Jura) I also planned to do some operating.

Last year I did operate from the same rented cottage on Skye but this year I wanted to do some portable working on both islands. With this in mind and following my disappointment last month I had taken time to properly prepare. As well as repairing the end-fed wire "magitenna" that had caused issues last time out I had constructed a linked dipole for 40m/20m for a simple inverted-vee using a fibreglass windsock pole.

I took the Yaesu FT857-D with a small SLA battery for portable work and a small power supply when in the cottages. Unfortunately things didn't get off to a good start when I dropped the battery when unpacking. I had used a small screw-terminal chock block to connect to the power loom and the weight of the battery simply ripped both wires out of the terminal block and they touched with an almighty spark and welded themselves together. I acted quickly to remove them from the battery but it has almost certainly affected the battery. Despite this set back the battery performance proved more than sufficient for my needs.

During the first week on Skye, the South Kesteven ARS, which I am the chairman, had their monthly meeting and we planned to try and make a scheduled contact (sked) I did have a run through one evening to test the set up and antenna, drinking a beer and making contacts while sitting on a bench at the cottage watching the sunset going down over Loch Bay with the Outer Hebrides in the distance - sheer bliss!



On the night of the sked the famous Scottish midges were out in abundance and I opted to work from inside the cottage. A successful contact and conversation was made even if there were a few issues at the club that night. They were unable to get the planned antenna up due to activities in the nearby scout hut but like all good hams they improvised using an Ampro-40 magmounted vertical on top of a large saucepan until they were able to get a dipole up but by then band conditions had started deteriorating, but a contact is a contact.

Going portable I had planned to do some Worked All Britain Award activations, the W.A.B scheme uses the Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping agencies National Grid Reference (NGR) system to divide the country into 10km x 10km grid squares. The aim is for activators to operate from the squares and for other operators to “work” those squares.

In addition to activating squares, operators can also activate pillar type triangulation points (commonly known as 'Trig Points') which were originally used to carry out the surveying for Ordnance Survey maps but have now been abandoned and have become interesting relics and many are now sadly falling into disrepair, however many people still seek them out and a database exists at www.trigpointing.uk

I planned to try to activate some squares and trig points as the more remote locations such as the Scottish Islands are highly sort after as they don’t get activated as often.

Firstly before I describe my adventures let me be brutally honest! I am fat, in fact very fat and unfit!

I haven’t always in such poor shape, in fact I used to be a keen walker regularly going out at weekends walking miles and even completed several long distance footpaths, including The Coast to Coast Walk back in 1991. I then spent many years competing in dog agility most weekends which kept me reasonably fit but the last few years circumstances have changed and I now have a sedentary lifestyle and desk bound job. This coupled with stress, apathy and being a more than willing victim of comfort eating mean I have piled on the pounds.

Why make this confession? Simply because most trig points are on prominent hill tops and high ground throughout the country and therefore will require some physical climbing to get to them. I was under no illusion there were many on Skye and Islay that I stood no chance of reaching without some form of coronary episode! But I had identified a number of more attainable ones requiring on paper just a modest exertion.

How wrong I was.. 

On the Isle of Skye we were staying on the Waternish peninsular and I had identified two possible candidates the nearby Ben Horneval (TP1275) and Ben Geary (TP1269) while both were over 260 meters in height the maps and descriptions seemed to indicate reasonable but still strenuous approaches. However prior to us arriving the weather had been very wet and the ground was very boggy and when actually standing looking up at the hills I sensibly thought "Not a chance!"

Instead I opted to go to the coast, specifically Talisker Bay which is glorious and simply activate a WAB square NG33 while the wife and dogs occupied themselves on the beach. So off we went, drove across Skye and walked the mile or so from the parking area carrying the rucksack with radio and pole. I went of to a nice spot just up of the beach to set up to then discover I had forgotten to pack the coax... never mind had a good few hours on the beach and stopped off at the Talisker distillery on the way back.


I hadn't given up on a Skye trig-point and I had spotted Culnaknock (TP0664) on the North East coast of Skye, which was tantalisingly described as “one your granny could do” and had the advantage of also having a Geocache for the wife to get. So we set off in the car with the dogs for a grand tour round the island and ended up there late one afternoon.

There were a number of suggested approaches, on the first we were met with fences, livestock and a sign saying private and seeing no obvious path up we investigated another through a gate on the main road. This was more straightforward however the nearest parking area was a little way down from the gate. The road was extremely busy and we weren’t comfortable trying to walk up the road with the dogs due to the traffic. I was feeling at little peeved at this point and opted to stay with the car while the wife retrieved the cache and took a photo so I know what I missed.


In the end I made no trig point activations on the Isle of Skye, but should we go back at least I am more prepared.

The second week of our holiday was on Islay. Islay is simply a fantastic place to visit, much quieter than Skye, probably due to the two hour ferry journey involved and I did manage some portable operating between visiting the eight whisky distilleries and a trip to a ninth on nearby Jura.

The cottage we were staying in overlooked Lagavulin Bay with the Lagavulin Distillery and the remains of Dunyvaig Castle, it was a two minute walk to a high point near the ruins where I set up one evening and had an hour operating in the setting sun, again band conditions were poor but I didn't care, NR44 was activated.




There were two trig-points quite near to the cottage. Ardmore Point (TP0875), from the map this looked simple enough, however the road to Ardmore was a private road so couldn’t take the car and while walking there from the nearest parking space was simple enough time didn’t allow it.

Cnoc Rhaonastil (TP2293) was another potential trig point, locally called the Fairy Hill it promised spectacular views for short but steep walk, however again parking and access proved problematic and so was never attempted. 

The Mull of Oa (TP4976) trig-point I actually walked to being next to the American Monument which commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918, the Tuscania and the Otranto and the spectacular location overlooks the very spot where the Tuscania sunk. The monument built to thank the inhabitants of Islay for their help is built in the shape of a lighthouse and is visible from many areas on Islay. Despite the very wet ground conditions the walk was straightforward however the weather put paid to any attempt at activating. The wind was very very strong, as this short video demonstrates.


The attempt on An Curran (TP0839) really was a comedy of errors, being a fairly modest 49m high and close to where we were staying it should have been straightforward. To get to the summit you have to navigate a dense conifer forest and I had read the description on the trigpointing.uk website of how to ascend via a gate and distinct path.

It looked short and simple so didn't take a map or the GPS with me. I found a gate and what seemed like a path along a wall and set off and quickly the path became indistinct and the trees were indeed very dense, so dense I was struggling to get through them. But I carried on going up gaining altitude thinking I must be nearing the top, however it got to the point I just couldn’t get through the trees anymore and there was no sign of them thinning out as they supposedly did at the summit. It started raining and was having to negotiate water filled hollows, heather and bracken hummocks and swarms of midges - this was not fun!

Eventually I did spot a clearing only to find it was where a power line ran up the hillside. I knew I was too far south and since going north through the forest was neigh on impossible I instead descended following the power line through chest high bracken back to the road, all the time worrying about "Serpents" as the locals quaintly called the adders which were prevalent this year.  When I did reach the road I had to climb a low dry stone wall and promptly slipped into a deep water filled ditch on the other side, losing a boot in the peaty mud much to the amusement of a passing group of horse riders.


I almost decided that this was enough, I was doomed not to activate a trig point however one remained on the hit list and I succeeded in activating it on the final day.

I had spotted Cnoc Lolairean (TP2283) when visiting the nearby Bruichladdich Distillery earlier in the week, only 29 meters high it was on a small ridge along the side of Loch Indaal and it involved just a short walk up a farm track and up a narrow track to the top.

The wife went of to get a coffee from the nearby mini-market and took the dogs for a walk on the nearby beach while I went to the trig point. What it lacked in height it made up for with the position with fantastic view across to Bowmore and down the Loch.

I used bungee cords to hold the pole to the pillar and soon had the inverted-vee up on 40m. I had around 40 minutes of operating, and band conditions were again poor with lots of noise but I did make a decent number of contacts running approximately 20W before the battery voltage started to drop off. I was especially pleased to work Stewart M0SDM a fellow SKARS member.




One unexpected radio highlight on Islay was capturing a SSTV image broadcast by the Russians from the International Space Station to celebrate 40 years since the Apollo-Soyuz link up. I didn't know about the SSTV operation before we went on holiday and so hadn't taken any VHF aerials with me so I just stuck a piece of wire into the back of the FT857-D and dangled it out the window to hopefully catch one of the passes early on the Sunday morning, I hadn't had time to unpack properly but the captured image was actually quite good considering.



Sunday, 5 July 2015

Prepping for some more /p

Following the eggcitement of last week I am been taking it a bit easier this weekend preparing for some portable operation in Scotland.

I have made a linked dipole inspired by the ones sold by SOTAbeams, it is a simple inverted vee supported by a 9 meter fishing pole the wire elements are made of sections which are joined together depending on the band required.  I have made a two band version, 20m/40m and it tuned nicely using the analyser. 

As a backup I have also revisited the "Magitenna" which disappointed last time I tried to used it. Firstly I replaced the original wire which was too heavy for the low power I run and is very prone to kinking.


While doing this I discovered that the terminal post on "the special matching unit" was simply turning when I tried to tighten the wing nut. This pointed to a broken or at best poor internal connection and I was forced to open up plastic box to make a repair, sadly "forced" was the operative word.

One of the four screws was inexplicably super-glued in place and being cack-handed I soon ruined the head trying to remove it and had to drill it out. Once the screws were removed I then found the lid too was glued in place at several points and had to prise the lid off trying to minimise any damage in the process.

Given that nearly all other ham equipment I own is designed to be serviceable, including rigs worth several hundred pounds I found this annoying and unnecessary for a simple antenna, especially as the ethos is for amateurs to experiment and modify things. It certainly wasn't glued for weatherproofing as it would be have sealed all round, it could only have been to stop it being opened. I could understand this if it were protecting some patented, copyright design but it wasn't, behold the magic within the "special matching unit" nothing but a simple un-un which I suspected already. 



Anyway I was able to tighten up the simple screw and bolt and ironically I used some epoxy resin on the screw head to try to stop it coming loose again. Hopefully this loose terminal was the reason for the poor performance last time.

I am looking forward to having another go from operating in Scotland this year with some more experience I hope to improve on last years efforts

While tinkering in the shack I kept the FT857 on and tuned around looking to give points away for the VHF Field Day and made a number of decent DX contacts using just 30W

Monday, 29 June 2015

First HAB flights were a success

Two years after discovering the hobby of High Altitude Ballooning I have migrated from being just a passive tracker and finally completed my first flights assisted by other members of the South Kesteven ARS.
Ready to launch
Back in March I posted about the opportunity I had to make a launch at this years Swaton Vintage Day and the 10th World Egg Throwing Championship

South Kesteven ARS were going to hold a special event station with the call sign GB2EGG. During the planning stage I jokingly suggested throwing an egg in to space on board a balloon, I shouldn't have yoked...

The whole venture captured everyone's imagination, sadly putting the special event station in the shade but we certainly got a lot of publicity for the club and amateur radio in general.

Featured on front page of local paper

There was certainly a lot to learn and get organised, not only did I have to design and build the flight computer which was the easy part but I had to build the payload containers get the balloon, parachute, cord the lifting gas (Helium) and build a filler assembly as well as getting official permission from the CAA for the launch.

The information on the UKHAS wiki as well as Dave Akerman's High Altitude Ballooning, From The Ground Up (and back again) were invaluable.

The cost of this venture was not insubstantial and thankfully MADHEN - The Ultimate Party Band agreed to sponsor the flight which helped greatly and I received a nice donation from fellow club member Mark Orbell (M0OBL)

Months of work and lots of last minute hitches but I was ready.

Two flights were planned an altitude 'burst' flight with a raw egg payload with a parachute decent. The main tracker MADHEN would broadcast SSDV images and telemetry with a telemetry backup tracker EGG1 suspended below it.  The second flight was a foil party balloon 'floater' with a tracker kindly donated by Steve Smith G0TDJ of ProjectAVR

Both flights flew and were a great success, unfortunately the SSDV tracker failed early in the flight so no in flight images were received.

The main payload is pictured below before the flight resting on its side. The Styrofoam box contained the flight computer and radio transmitter with a camera attached to the Raspberry Pi and the "flying saucer" model which contained the egg was positioned to be visible.
 

As this test image shows the 'egg saucer' should have had the earth below it.


However the arduino based backup tracker which was suspended below it worked perfectly.

There were some issues with getting CAA approval because the sky was very busy on the day including the last remaining Vulcan Bomber VH-558 making its farewell flight in the area, cue jokes about the Vulcan getting scrambled... but approval was given for a morning flight, not ideal for the organisers but we were still a spectacle for the handful who were there early.

Starting the fill

Checking the neck lift, made difficult by the wind

Stewart (M0SDM) helping me tie off the balloon and payload cord
The strong gusty wind made launch difficult
Me and Stewart making a dash to assist the launch
Someone was on hand to capture it on video for The World Egg Throwing Federation


It started so well,  I was receiving telemetry and image packets and then transmission stopped


However as I said the other tracker worked brilliantly and this was the final flight path as visualised in Google Earth. The ascent and decent rate and the burst altitude were exactly as planned and predicted, so I know I got the neck lift measurement right even with the high wind on the day.

Path of MADHEN/EGG1

A splashdown at sea was inevitable due to the wind conditions, hopefully it it survived the landing it may wash up on a beach somewhere and we can retrieve the images.

With what little Helium remained I was able to lightly fill and launch a foil party balloon carrying a blown egg shell as a 'floater' which made a valiant attempt to reach the continent at 6-7km high travelling at 120+km/hr where it reportably hit bad weather and was downed.

Path of EGGDX in comparison to MADHEN/EGG1

 All in all an eggscellent day!