We are a group of 4th year students currently studying Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Southampton. As part of our degree, we are working on a Group Design Project (GDP) where we get the chance to make practical use of the knowledge acquired in the previous years.
Project BLAST – which stands for Balloon Launched Android Satellite Test – is about designing and building a cubesat utilising technology based on an Android smartphone, and then test it in near-space using a high altitude balloon.
A cubesat is a 10x10x10 cm satellite, designed to perform tasks similar to standard satellites, for a much cheaper price, thanks to its very small mass (1.33 kg). Because of these characteristics, they are nowadays a very popular way for students to have their first hands-on experience in the design and manufacturing process of a satellite. We are aiming to create our own version utilising parts of a smartphone such as cameras, GPS, motherboard and so on, because they are very cheap (for space standards at least!) pieces of technology which are readily available on the market. Once the cubesat is ready, it will take measurements and pictures of the higher atmosphere, but we are also designing a short-range inter-satellite communication system using Wi-Fi, to allow for exchange of the above-mentioned data between multiple cubesats.
LAUNCH and TESTING
In order to be able to launch BLAST into near-space, we will make use of SHARP, a reusable platform that was built last year by other 4th year students at the University of Southampton. This allows to reach an altitude of about 30 km, depending on the payload mass and the size of the balloon that is used. SHARP is a fully functional platform which comes with a GPS module and a transceiver that constantly sends data down to Mission Control, who will then be able to track the balloon and make live predictions where the platform will land, according to the real-time wind situation. A chase car will then try and get to the predicted landing site as soon as possible to retrieve the platform. For more information about SHARP, please visit projectsharp.co.uk.
SHARP transmits using FSK on 434.650 MHz (Upper Side Band) with a frequency shift of 370 Hz, a baud rate of 50, using ASCII 7-bit encoding, no parity and 2 end bits. The up-to-date packet structure can be downloaded from fl-digi, but will generally adhere to the following format:
KEEP IN TOUCH
If you would like to keep up to date with our project, or if you are just curious to find out how a high altitude balloon is launched and how the Earth looks from up there, please follow us on Twitter.