Seeking advice for NASA research

I am part of a JPL team studying the upper atmosphere.  Our plan is to take our test apparatus up in a helium balloon to 15 km and then, after it does its thing, we want to drop it in some kind of a UAV and have it return to us.  The vehicle has to be able to carry a payload of 7 kg.  What might be a good strategy for this?  What types of UAV's would be best?  If we use a fixed wing plane, will it be able to pull out of the free fall?  Basically, we are seeking the advice of those more knowledgeable than us.  If you could design this system as best as possible without any concern about cost, what might you do?

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  • I think a parawing might be a better option from this height as you could control the height to deploy depending on atmosphere density or the distance needed to travel once you have finished your work. Getting something back under power and weighing in at 7 kilo's might be an issue. Mainly battery duration I would of thought. With a steerable chute you could cover a considerable distance and extend control time over the craft for longer. Less landing issues too if it runs low on battery power you would only need a locator to recover. Hope these comments on this thread help. Would be good to find out how you got on too.
  • I am surprised that no one has mentioned that since you are doing this as part of your JPL work, you will need a COA from the FAA to fly your UAV back down to the ground. I am not sure, but I don't think you would need one for a parachute recovery. I am also not sure whether you need one for the balloon launch, since this is a professional endeavor. I am sure your safety review board at JPL will know. I worked on a project that did something similar to what you described:

    Let me know if you have any further questions...
  • couldn't the uav just use a small parachute or deflate the baloon at high altitude to slow descent and stabilize it and then release it?
  • Also the Arcturus guys have done this fairly recently:

  • Developer
    I liked Burt Rutan's design for Virgin Galactic. He tips the wing structure up to create an airbrake giving enough drag to control the craft and slow it down.

    I wouldn't try and fly from that height, maybe just do a controlled fall, with a small parachute. Then release it.
  • Hi Chris
    temperature is going to be a big concern.
    The chaps in QinetiQs HALE team are used to dealing with these issues and originally used balloon launches. We're all busy flying in Yuma for a few weeks but PM me if you like.
  • I think that scenario you described is not legal in US, at least for amateurs. Balloon going up should be no problem, but glider/plane/UAV coming down ( as opposed to balloon) is legal no-no for us due to FAA regulations. Since you are working on NASA/JPL project YMMV
  • So who get the credits for the idea?
  • There is a DARPA/Northrop project called Rapid Eye which does something every close to this with a rocket that you might want to look into. Also, NASA Dryden has a couple of Global Hawks that they are using for research which you might be able to use. If you need the contact for the person in charge there PM me.

    Also, there is an aircraft that might be perfectly suited for this job called BATUAS. It is a blended body carbon plane that already has the size you're looking for. With only a few modifications (carbon/carbon body instead of carbon/epoxy) it could handle re-entry temperatures, and since it's already a powered UAV recovery is worked out.
  • Quite flattering that a NASA request ends up here at DIYDrones, as I feel confident they allready possess all the technology and skills required. However, which part of a quest like that would be of the greatest challenge for the people here?
    - a vehicle able to carry 7kg of payload,
    - that vehicle pulling out of a dive,
    - the navigation,
    - the landing?
    I suspect the vehicle itself, since I think most of the rest of the tricks are more or less performed on a regular basis by the participants at this forum, or...
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