Weather Balloons and New Arduino Shields Have Arrived

Weather BalloonThis week I received several very exciting parcels of stuff, for my near-space photography project.

First was my weather balloons and parachutes, which came from Flow-Tronic, a company in Belgium. What a weird package, two bright orange plastic parachutes and two clear plastic bags with what are essentially giant 1.5m long condoms in them! The really extraordinary things is that although the balloons will start out at about 1.5m across when inflated, they will expand as they rise (due to the drop in atmospheric pressure) and will end up about 7m across before they burst. That is frickin’ huge!

The next packages to arrive were some new electronic gadgets for the tracking and communication part of the project. After not having much luck with my Navman Jupiter GPS modules (struggled to get a fix), I decided to bite the bullet and get a decent one, as well as the brilliant GPS and SD Card Logger Shield from Adafruit, built specifically for the Arduino. This comes in kit form, so will require me to get my soldering skills back up to scratch.

GPS and SD Card Logger KitI also bought a Cellular Shield from Cool Components which gives you SMS, GSM/GPRS, and TCP/IP capabilities to your Arduino project. I’ll be using it to send SMS messages of the units current location from the above mentioned GPS receiver. This should allow tracking of the weather balloon when at low altitudes, and hopefully aid in recovery when it comes crashing back to earth! This means I will have two stacked shields on my Arduino, so this will require some careful planning to make sure they won’t interfere with each other.

Projects for the year

I’m constantly thinking up ideas for projects I’d like to do but never seem to find any time for them. Or when I do I can’t decide which of them to tinker with so I end up spending flitting between them and achieving nothing. I’m determined to tackle some of the bigger ones this year, as this is the stuff that I truly enjoy. So I thought I’d write a list of them here, so I at least have a sort of To Do list of projects that might help me focus on them a bit more.

Pyro Fountain Tools

DONE. Ok, this one is here just so I know I’ve crossed off at least one! You can find out about these in previous posts on this blog.

26 Degrees of Separation

A photogrpahy experiment that I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time now. It involves taking a picture with a disposable camera then giving it to a friend to do the same, and then they pass it on to someone else and so on. The idea is that hopefully if one of the cameras ever manages to reach person 27 in the chain they will send it back to me. Once developed I should then have a set of 27 photos, starting with me and ending with someone 26 inter-personal connections away from me. These will all be published on the website

This one has been on my list so long that I think  the cameras I bought for it are probably out of date by now and I’ll have to get some more! I really want to do this soon as it could take a long time for any of the cameras to make it back to me, if they ever do that is.

Near-Space Photography

Arduino GPS Tracker

Arduino GPS Tracker

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now after reading about it in the fantastically inspirational, and snappily titled, book “Makers: All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things In Their Backyard, Basement or Garage“. It featured details of two amateur aerospace fans who launched a weather balloon into near-space with a digital camera on board that captured some beautiful images showing the curvature of the earth. What was more impressive was the low budget they had managed to do it on (~$500).

This really captured my imagination and I’m now on a mission to launch my own in a similar style. The real bonus here is that it covers so many of my interests as it involves science, electronics, photography, tracking and programming. I’m making some progress on this already; I’ve been busy playing with a GPS tracking using my Arduino microcontroller and a separate GPS unit, and I’ve just ordered two suitable weather balloons from a company in Belgium. There will be a LOT of work to do for this if it has any chance of success, but the aim is to launch in late summer/autumn of this year.

I’ll write more detail on this one soon.

Social Media iPhone App

Like all good ideas this one came from a lunch time chat down the pub! Me and my mate Jay came up with an idea for a social media name checking service, and decided to build it into an iPhone app, seeing as that is the latest craze!  I will be building the API and other server-side code while Jay builds the iPhone app interface. Still in early stages, but keep an eye out for the launch of

Ball Mill

Yes this is still on my list. I made a good start on this last year with building a 12v power supply, but I then made a prototype ball mill which was far from functional! I didn’t even get round to putting any details on here, although I might do later. I need to rethink my design and make it much simpler. I’ve been looking around on the UKPS forums at other users’ home-made mills and will be taking some inspiration from them. I’m keen to get this one done as it’ll mean I can start some proper experimentation with my own black powder for simple fireworks.