Launch! Lost :( Found :) Recovered !

Been a very interesting 48 hours. Executive summary :

Ok lets start at the beginning. The plan was to do three launches from Elsworth near Cambridge on Saturday the 1st of October. the following payloads were planned to launch BELLO MONDO, XABEN and mine AVA. Having chatted with Steve (Rocketboy) it was decided AVA would take a passenger up underneath it, TMSB. TMSB had no radio telemetry in it but did have a commercial GSM tracker in it which would come in useful later…

It was a perfect day at the Elsworth site, we streamed the whole thing live via uStream so people could see what was going on whilst we prepared. MONDO launched first under a 2000g balloon then XABEN follow shortly afterwards. To ensure the TMSB payload didn’t damage AVA’s antenna we made a quick spacer using a cardboard roll, TMSB was attached via a carabiner under AVA.

Had a few issues with the Canon A560 not initially powering up, it seemed when the card was set to write protect the camera wouldn’t power on. I have seen this before and its a damaged switch inside (annoying I only tested it yesterday). As a quick work around I booted it up in normal mode and initiated a firmware upgrade to get CHKD working. Once this was running I put the “bung” in the A/V socket to disable the screen and assembled the payload.

All assembled and balloon inflated it was go time, having not held one of these before I was genuinely surprised how much lift they generated, we’d put 3kg of lift on this one we slowly reeled it out until it floated off skywards :

We loaded the car up and set off in the general direction of the predicted landing zone near Thetford. It was quickly apparent something was amiss as AVA was reporting only 3 satellites and struggling to ascertain its location. This continued for about 20 mins until it lost all satellites and its location data. We continued onwards to the predicted landing site, it had a similar profile to XABEN so we decided to go collect that first.

XABEN was located and recovered at which point we decided to break out the Yagi’s and triangulate AVA. The general direction was South East of us towards Lakenheath. Close to RAF Lakenheath the signal seemed very strong indeed down towards the horizon and we were convinced it was up a tree somewhere around there, we spent a good hour trying to zero in on but then the transmission suddenly ceased about 16:40.At this point the GSM tracker was reporting it was off the coast in the North sea, as this didn’t tally up with the predictions and was so much further than even MONDO had managed an hour or so earlier we initially discounted it as a dodgy reading.

After a quick telephone call with Steve we decided with no signal we’d just see if the GSM tracker settled down and gave a more accurate reading. Steve headed back off to Felixstowe and we headed back to the pub at Elsworth where Josh had parked his car. Over a pint of lemonade and some food we fired up the GSM tracker again and it was still reporting it was about 3-4 miles off the coast and moving slowly as if it was drifting.

It was fairly obvious our predictions had been wrong and two things had happened a) it had gone quite a bit higher than expected and/or b) it hadn’t burst when it was meant to and had gone into a float condition. Float condition is where the balloon stops at a certain altitude instead of bursting, it doesn’t go any higher but doesn’t come down either.Eventually as the U/V attacks the latex they will burst but this can take a while.

Given how far it had gone a float was the only real explanation and would also account for it being low on the horizon from Lakenheath. As it was getting dark and the location was a good 70 miles from Elsworth we decided there was little we could do today so called it a day and headed off home.

Sunday morning 8am. Josh sends me a text saying the payload was still reporting its location (about 5 miles out to sea now) but the battery was running low on the tracker. Also we only had one “on demand location request left”. Steve called the Coast Guard asking for advise who put us in touch with a local boat tour company. They agreed to go out and get it, Josh requested the last location we had and this was passed on to the boat team.

We knew something was up when the GSM tracker burst into life indicating it was doing 30mph back to shore! After a brief stop at the Coast Guard to be check for contraband it was handed over to Steve :

The AEE-MD91 camera was still powered up but everything else had died. Steve removed the SD Cards and put them in fresh water to remove the salt and then let the dry a bit. The inside of Ava looks to have some corrosion due to the salt water and batteries probably :

Steve then popped the SD Card into his PC to see if there was anything on it, oh boy no less than 2800 pictures! The camera was taking 1 picture every 10 seconds so this means it was active for at least 7 1/2 hours ( Canon A560 screen off/flash disabled Energizer Ultimate Lithium’s packet says up to 680 pictures – HAHA). One of the first pictures off was AVA taking a picture of the TMSB payload in the water next to it :

Amazing how calm the water was a few really nice pictures followed from the decent :

Then my favourite :

That’s the river Thames with France in the distance somewhere around 34-36km high.

Over the next few days I hope to get the SD cards back to have a good look through all the photos, 1/3 of them are black as the payload was taking pictures well into the night.

Having reviewed the data the take off was 12:45 and the landing was at 16:41 giving a flight time of flight time of just short of 4 hours. Final altitude was most likely 36km, Steve advised the GPS antenna was slightly damaged, I don’t know if we caught it when we assembled the payload.

Probable track was :

I’d like to say a massive thanks to all the team at UKHAS ( ) for taking the time to track AVA even though it wasn’t transmitting its location correctly. Thanks to Josh & Ed without whom I wouldn’t be seeing these pictures now. And finally a huge huge thank you to Steve Randall of Random Engineering for all the effort put in on Saturday and today to get the payloads recovered.

Update1 : Launch Pictures here :

Update2 : Josh confirms all his cameras working and data recovered.

Update3 : GSM Tracker used was supplied by I doubt they designed it to float in the North Sea for 16 hours but it performed admirably.

Update 4 : Having reviewed video footage burst was at 15:54:37, splash down was at 16:43:30 50 mins later.

  1. TMSB: Lost….and FOUND. | | JoshingTalkJoshingTalk - pingback on 30/04/2012 at 09:15

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