We launched our balloon and this is what happened on our journey. And here is how most of the journey went down.

Finished Code

Finished Code

Here is what some of the code looks like, and what the overall software is meant to do during flight.

Data Visualiser

Data Visualiser

Along with the software written to go on the microcontroller we have written some software to visualise the data coming back to the base station from the microcontroller.

The data visualiser has a map, compass, and a few other data displays.


The map will display an area around the balloon payload based on the coordinates provided by the GPS module on the payload. the map images are gathered from Google, using URL image capturing, this essentially means the program will convert the coordinates from the balloon into Google Maps coordinates, create a URL and copy the image from that URL.

ezgif-com-crop-1 Compass 

Magnetometer data is fed into the visualiser from the balloon and is superimposed onto a representation of a compass. This data will provide us with a rough idea of which way the payload is facing. We can’t get a perfect direction due to the fact that magnets and the magnetic fields of the Earth, but even if it isn’t perfect, it still provides us with an idea and looks pretty.

Cube ezgif-com-crop-2

The visualiser has a 3D cube in next to the Compass and this represents the payload. The cube is able to rotate, flip, mimicking the behaviour of the balloon payload.

Numerical Data 

Along with all of the visual interpreted data there is a live data output. all of the data displayed in this section comes directly from the senors. The data includes measurements from the 9DOF and barometer and also has the GPS coordinates. Once all of these values are received they are converted into understandable number – including G’s, metres, and degrees Celsius – if the values aren’t already understandable.


The last function the visualiser has is the ability to display data from a saved file or live from a COM port. To read from the serial port the program accesses the ports through the Serial library. the serial library allows python to read, write and manipulate data coming in and out of the COM ports. The other method of displaying data is to come from a file. The only files the visualiser reads are .csv or comma separated values. the reason for this is because of how easily the values are to be read. each value for one frame will be on one line and every components output will be one value in that line.

So all together the visualiser ill look like the image below. It is still in development and has a lot of tweaks to be made, but it is getting there and should have enough functionality for it to be useful during our balloon launch and afterwards during data analysis.



Project Update

Project Update

The clock is counting down and here is what we have completed and we still need to do before we can launch this balloon.



Testing some prototypes can be expensive, so we decided to simulate what the hardware and software would go through to see the effects and find bugs (unexpected features) in the software.

Rocket Launch

Rocket Launch

In preparation for our balloon launch, we built and launched a rocket to test the sensors that will be on our balloon’s payload.

The test rocket awaiting blast-off in a grassy field near Lake Ginninderra. - Lake Ginninderra, ACT (666 ABC Canberra: Louise Maher)
The test rocket awaiting blast-off in a grassy field near Lake Ginninderra. – Lake Ginninderra, ACT (666 ABC Canberra: Louise Maher)

As part of the rocket science unit in our mechatronics course, we learnt about the specific design of a rocket could have such a large impact on the flight, apogee and making sure it doesn’t explode – thankfully, ours didn’t. Who knew that the number and length of the fins could effect the flight so much?
It also gave us the opportunity to use 3D printing software to create the exact rocket design that we desired.


3D printing most of the components gave us the ability control where everything goes in the rocket as well as how the rocket behaves during its flight. The nose cone was designed to house the payload and also designed to come off to release the parachute. The fins at the bottom contained the rocket motor and lid into the body of the rocket, which was a fancy cardboard tube, and had plenty of room to house the parachute and fit the nose cone payload on the top.

The payload was an opportunity to test almost everything that was going to go up in the balloon. It also allowed us to change, remove and add certain components to figure out the best devices to use in our balloon payload.


Our payload contained: a micro-controller (Intel® Edison), 9 Degrees of Freedom (9DoF), barometer and an SD card. This payload was the very first prototype of all of the essential electronics, helping us to test some of the logging  software, to understand the type of data we receive and indicated that it all works together.

While an unfortunate break in solder prevented us from saving the data onto the SD card on the first launch, after much probing around with a multimeter and double-checking the code we managed to fix the problem, and successfully got it going on the 2nd launch. Facing challenges like this out on the field was daunting, but ultimately gives us the experience of debugging and solving problems on the fly, and preparing us for similar situations if something were to go wrong at the balloon launch.

Andrew Wilkie (left) and Jeremy Mann prepare the rocket for launch. – Lake Ginninderra, ACT (666 ABC Canberra: Louise Maher)

We also had the privilege of being interviewed by Louise Maher from the ABC. To listen to the interview or find out more, go here.

After several delays the rocket was launched by student Madeleine Mackey. - Lake Ginninderra, ACT (666 ABC Canberra, Louise Maher)

After several delays the rocket was launched by student Madeleine Mackey. – Lake Ginninderra, ACT (666 ABC Canberra, Louise Maher)
dsc_00982_moment2                            ezgif-com-rotate

The rocket launch gave us a clear picture of the work that still needed to be completed and how tough this project might actually be, especially trying to balance school and work. But we are on track; our logging software complete, steering algorithm basically done and the circuit board being soldered up this week. We will be ready to launch in under 32 days.



YICTE – Young ICT Explorers. YICTE is a competition run all around Australia getting students who love ICT and anything in general apply their knowledge and abilities to solve real world issues.

PCB Design

We decided to make this project extra special by design almost everything from scratch, this includes the circuit board.

Rudder Design

Prototype 1

The first prototype of the rudder was made out of cardboard – a readily available material that was easy to cut – and rectangular (15x10cm).
The prototype was thick at the bottom and thin at the top, in an attempt to replicate an airfoil. This design feature is included as the majority of fast airflow over the rudder will be rushing upwards as the payload is descending. This creates laminar airflow over the rudder that is easy to control, rather than turbulent air which is difficult to steer in. The shape of this prototype is based on an airfoil, similar to that of the rudder on an airplane but facing downward, ensuring aerodynamic properties in the design.

Prototype 2

After brief testing with the first prototype attached to the case, it became apparent that the rudder was far too small to have any noticeable effect on the direction of the payload over a short period of time. The second prototype remained rectangular and made out of cardboard, however increased in size (22.5x15cm). The edge of the rudder now reaches over the edges of the case significantly more than the last prototype, exposing it to more laminar air than the previous model – the case is now also being designed in a way to increase laminar airflow over the rudder.
Another change made was to add thickness to the rudder on the side closest to the case – giving it the same airfoil effect, but on the axis that it will be exposed to air as it travels forward as well as down.

The next prototype material will be balsa wood, as it has a high strength to weight ratio and can easily be carved to feature the airfoil shape. Hopefully this will adequately fit the needs of the rudder, and hence be the final material too.

Servo-to-Rudder Attachment

The servo will be connected to a pushrod, which will stick through a hole in the case and attach (either screwed or soldered) to a clevis and holder that will be screwed to the rudder (as below).


Close-up rod-to-rudder.PNG

This allows the servo’s movement on only one axis to effect the direction of the rudder, and the servo will be placed inside the case to have best control over this axis.

Rudder-to-Case Attachment

The rudder will be attached to the case by a pin held into place by the case. It will slide into a hole either cut or drilled into the edge of the rudder, or else external clips will attach it to the pin (if drilling or cutting is likely to break the rudder). This allows the rudder to freely change directions with little friction, while still being fastened securely to the case.

Circuit Design

Circuit Design

Building a circuit take quite a bit of time and effort. A schematic has to be constructed – which is a diagram showing the links between all of the electronics. A prototype should be built and tested, the schematic refined and then finally the PCB