Starduster II – Kickstarter Launch

Starduster II is an upgraded version of Josh Ward’s Starduster – Photographing Earth from Near Space project, this time in partnership with the Baylor Amateur Radio Club.

The Baylor Amateur Radio Club is a student organization with the goal of providing educational opportunities for students concerning the scope of amateur radio and radio license acquisition, to provide opportunities for public service during emergency situations and local charitable activities, and to provide an operable amateur radio station for our members. Our club is made up of active students and faculty/staff from Baylor University, and those working towards becoming active.

Through this project we are hoping to gain publicity for our club, get some cool data from the upper-atmosphere, share awesome video, and be a vehicle to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics and be a platform to introduce people to amateur radio.

Since we are working with Josh, we have high-altitude ballooning experience on the team from someone who has successfully launched and recovered a balloon mission. To see a recap of his previous launch, check out the video below.

This is a short ‘tour’ of my November 2014 payload that brought the photos and videos seen here. Starduster II will be a vast improvement encorporating multiple points of data capture while streaming data and acting as an amateur radio repeater for the duration of the flight.

For this project we hope to add or improve the following:

1. Collect data:

  • Temperature (inside and outside of the payload container)
  • Barometric Pressure
  • Humidity
  • Acceleration of balloon payload (pitch/roll/yaw orientation)

Through the use of an Arduino programmable microprocessor and several digital and analog sensors, we will design a system that will collect various data points in real time, and log that information to an SD card to parse once back on the ground. After the balloon has been recovered we can do some cool stuff with it such as analysis in MATLAB, matching balloon movements with the video, building 3D models of the flightpath and more!

2. Collect real-time position data

Through the use of APRS (a distributed array of radio receiving stations) we plan on using a high-altitude GPS module to collect the latitude & longitude, altitude, and speed in real time. Then we will use a handheld radio in the balloon to transmit the APRS packets so that we can track it in real time, and so others around the world can also track it in real time through the internet.

3. Collect video

Our group already owns 2 GoPros for recording video/taking pictures. We aim to use one camera to collect video of the entire flight from liftoff to landing and dedicating one to higher quality still-photos suitable for enlarging and display. Upon completion, we plan to use the video to get others excited about STEM and amateur radio. We may invest in external battery packs in order to run the GoPros for a longer period of time than the extended battery can. In addition, if we are able to meet a stretch goal we can have the option of adding on a third camera which will allow us to record the flight in 4k resolution. Finally, we would like to investigate and implement various methods to stabilize the cameras, in order to get better footage.

4. Run an experimental repeater payload

If you’ve ever used regular two way radios on a campout or an adventure with friends, you are familiar with the difficulty of talking over long range distances. In amateur radio a repeater is a device that allows amateur radio operators to communicate over much longer distances when using similar radios. This is possible by putting a device that is called a repeater in a high location where other radios can “talk” to it. Once it has received a signal it then “repeats” it or re-transmits it on a different frequency. And that’s where the name “repeater” comes from!

Using this experimental repeater, our group would like to see what kind of distances people can communicate at when using a repeater running at high altitudes. We plan on achieving this goal through the use of two handheld radios and various other components to make them act as a cross band repeater. In addition, we may plan on powering the radios externally if experiments show that it is needed.

5. Teach others about STEM and Amateur Radio

Through our club we aim to teach college students who may not know about amateur radio, or may know about amateur radio but are unfamiliar with all of its uses. In addition, we would like to get students excited about STEM through a cool project that people don’t get to participate in everyday. By aligning the data we collect, with some cool video we feel that we can be fairly successful with the project.

This project is still in the research phase so do not have many pictures or prototypes to show. However, we plan to publish weekly content updates to share our testing and progress of the project. As a result, we hope you can feel as through you were a part of the project, and got to participate in the launch. Finally, we plan to release the code and schematics of the design onto github once we finish so that others may using our work in the future.

Stretch Goals:

$1,300:

With $300 more dollars we are able to purchase more sensors to add onto the project. These include radiation level detection, magnetic field strength, or any other sensors that could be cool to send up. Feel free to contact us with suggestions!

$1,700:

Unlock 4k video! Fund this level to allow us to purchase a GoPro 4 so that we can add 4k video recording to our collection of data that we are releasing.

Our Team:

Jacob Boline:

I am a Senior Electrical and Computer Engineering Major. I am primarily interested in Radio and Microwave Design, and I hold a General Level amateur radio license. I am the current president of the Baylor Amateur Radio Club. My favorite part of the project is the data collection, and the end result of the video.

Josh Ward:

The Senior Academic Technology Consultant for the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University. He has a pilot’s license and a long history of photography and general geekery. Josh has High Altitude Near-Space Balloon Photography experience and looks forward to the real-time tracking and data collection aspects of this mission.

Clay Little:

Clayton Little is a Sophomore Management Information Systems Major, Private Pilot and Amateur Radio Technician. Clayton has always had an interest in electronics and has had his Amateur Radio license since 2010. Clayton plans on joining the Air Force after graduating with the intent to fly DV Transport or Cargo Aviation.

Donny McKay:

I am a Senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. I have been an Amateur Radio Operator since 2014 and hold a general License. I am interested in Aerospace Engineering and plan on going into the United States Navy when I graduate. I am also a member of the Baylor Running Club and do volunteer work with Mission Waco.

Risks and challenges

There are many factors that could complicate launch and recovery.

High altitude ballooning can be tricky to ‘dial in’ to reach specific altitudes; there is a learning curve but we have thoroughly researched the topic.

We have to contend with thermal issues; extreme cold between 18k and 60k feet and heating from 60k-100k due to the lack of atmosphere and inability to radiate heat caused by the batteries and camera.

We have to design the systems that are running the balloon, however we are experienced engineering students and believe that we have the capability to solve any problems we run into.

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