StratoDrone Test Flights.

When you want to build anything big you need to settle on the control systems, but that can be expensive and not suited to small test balloons. ThunderStruck is very fortunate to have access to a lot of model aircraft control systems and these will for the moment satisfy our need for flight data and control.

Video and Data

In the past we have relied on both onboard data collection available after recovery of the payload and very basic tracking data often stored on the internet depending on the type of tracker and real-time radio collection systems. This is fine for finding the payload and correlating altitude with any video or experimental data collected during the flight, but as we develop our StratoDrone we are looking at wanting to instantly know our situation and take control. One way data is no longer acceptable, nor is just basic cut down systems.

Weather Balloon Test Bed

It is very expensive to fly a test system on a large balloon that may even have to be custom made. For this reason we have selected a latex weather balloon for our initial test flights. With customers wanting to fly their payloads, we will need to occupy as little mass of the 4 Kg that we are allowed. The extra safety that we can offer and the extra services are likely to more than offset the loss. We can always move from a “Light Balloon” with a maximum payload of 4 Kg all up to a “Medium Balloon” with a maximum payload of 6 Kg all up. This will cost a little more for our clients but will provide the safety and control that we will be able to offer.

Test Bench Setup for FPV Cameras
Test Bench Setup for FPV Cameras

So What Will be New?

You will be very surprised at the massive list.

  • a real-time video link (1 watt transmit power)
  • a long range data link with radio diversity
  • 3 x switchable cameras controlled from the ground
  • a navigation system (Ardupilot – Pixhawk)
    • with 3 axis sensors
    • compass
    • horizon (level sensors)
    • GPS input
    • current and battery sensors
    • ADS-B receiver interface
  • ADS-B receiver with GPS to 50 Km
  • Main and essential services lithium batteries (LiPo)
  • GPS receiver good to 50 Km
  • 250 watt ADS-B transmitter
  • 2 antenna systems totalling 3 antennas.
Tiny Video Camera for Flight
Tiny Video Camera for Flight

We will also be carrying our Satellite tracker and our older VHF radio tracker. That will total around 1 Kg in mass. These systems are tiny and if you wish to use them at high altitude, you have to alter them to withstand the lack of air cooling, but that is our bit of fun.

On the Ground

This is part of the magic. to make this a long range link requires high gain antennas. These are too big and complex to fit to the balloon so they only exist on our ground link. We will need an antenna that can automatically acquire the balloons position by telemetry and then swing the high gain antennas around to give the video link the gain it needs to provide the video link with such little power. The telemetry will be on 900 MHz and the video will be on 5.8 GHz for our work. I will not list or show how we are doing this as that is part of our propriety skill set.

Displays and Controls

On the ground we will have the Ardupilot software on our PC with full view of terrain and aircraft positions received by the balloon’s ADS-B receiver. it will provide a virtual artificial horizon and more. The computer can control multiple operations including cutdown of the payload, operating motors, multiple parachute ejections and other items as required for our customers

Ardupilot Laptop View
Ardupilot Laptop View

The second screen is where we see the magic. With three cameras we can control which view we want. One will be considered the forward view from the view point of the navigation system. This will be more important in later flights. This screen will be stand alone – no keyboard. If you were controlling a model aircraft. This forward camera and Head Up Display (HUD) would give you all the information needed to fly and often that is done with goggles. In fact the screen pictured here and in the video is the screen from a set of goggles. Goggles allow clear view even in strong sunlight.

FVP Camera  and Head Up Display HUD
FVP Camera and Head Up Display HUD

Icing on the Cake

Well as much as this sounds amazing, we are working expecting to record both of these channels and also to stream them for our customers and possibly for anyone to see if the flight is not covered by NDA or secrecy for the customer. ThunderStruck takes an Open Book approach to everything not considered exposing our true IP. You can follow our progress and see our flights whenever possible.

ThunderStruck will use a 4 channel 12 volt recorder similar to those used on buses that have multiple cameras. The streaming is accomplished our computers and by a mobile repeater in our tracking vehicle. The approved area is covered in Australia by Telstra and they sell a repeater for 3G and 4G – ample for our needs.

Video Demonstration

This video was made adhoc on our test bench. A customer was interested in features like this and we pulled this together to show them what we could achieve. Remember this is from our “junk” box and had not been used for nearly 5 years. A fully featured modern product would produce better results.

Future Flights

The future is unclear. We are approaching Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority. (CASA) for a range of flight testing and each flight will need specific approval, but the important point is that we will have the ability to control systems to and from the ground. The ability to possibly release and flight high altitude drones and more. All must have CASA approval and many must have more Air Services Australia approval. Most of all we can see what is happening.

ThunderStruck and HABworx

We are working on some of the most advanced projects on the planet. the systems are extreme and exciting and ThunderStruck and its balloon department, HABworx, if available to meet your unique challenge.

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