Lester Haines's Posts (40)

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3689655014?profile=originalOur Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project is in good shape following last Saturday's PRATCHETT avionics test flight, named in honour of the late Discworld author Sir Terry.

3689654944?profile=originalOur US allies at Edge Research Laboratory launched the PRATCHETT payload (above) - comprising an avionics package as mounted in our Vulture 2 spaceplane - from Colorado Springs East Airport.

3689655056?profile=original3689655025?profile=originalIt was another textbook mission by Edge, with the payload coming down some 25km from the launch point, having hit a tad over 31,000m at balloon burst. Here's the flight path on Droneshare, as per the Pixhawk data uploaded by Andrew Tridgell, who was on hand to monitor the mission live via our 900MHz radio link:

3689655111?profile=originalAnd here's the payload hitting the ground, just a short walk from the pursuit vehicle:

3689655077?profile=originalSuffice it to say, the avionics survived the flight, and the data showed that our batteries and servos are able to handle the cold at altitude. Here's a sample graph, courtesy of Tridge, showing the voltage situation during the mission:

3689655046?profile=originalThe 900MHz radio didn't behave quite as well, due to some interference which scuppered our planned two-way comms with the Pixhawk.

3689655157?profile=originalIt's not a major issue, and we're investigating just what caused so much noise. There are full details on the flight, including more photos, and data from the Pixhawk, right here.

As ever, it's a big ta very much to Tridge and Edge for their magnificent work. We now just need FAA approval to launch the Vulture 2 and we're away. Hopefully, that will be granted before the heat death of the universe, but it's fair to say that the FAA moves in mysterious, and inexorably slow, ways.

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3689652395?profile=originalThe final Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) test flight -  codenamed PRATCHETT - will take off tomorrow (Saturday) from Colorado Springs East Airport at 13:30 local time (19:30 GMT).

The mission - designed to test our Vulture 2 spaceplane's avionics rig at altitude - is being conducted by our US allies at Edge Research Laboratory. They'll send this payload up to around 30,000m under a mighty meteorological balloon:


3689653978?profile=originalThe test is a second pop at seeing how our Pixhawk autopilot, servos, batteries, etc, perform in extreme cold at altitude. This time around, however, we've got a 900MHz radio rig on board, by which Andrew Tridgell will monitor the flight live from the comfort of his sofa in Australia. There are more details on that and the payload here.

It should be entertaining, so if you fancy cracking a beer and coming along for the ride, you'll be able to follow the flight live here.

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3689652395?profile=originalWe're gearing up for the final avionics test flight of the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project, and have dubbed the mission PRATCHETT ("Planes Reactive Airborne Tests Checking Heuristically for Extreme Technological Tantrums") in honour of the late Discworld author Sir Terry.

In October last year, our US allies at Edge Research Laboratory sent a rig comprising Pixhawk, servos and batteries - identical to that mounted in our Vulture 2 spaceplane - up to 27,700, to see how the whole thing would handle the cold.

Autopilot brain surgeons Linus Penzlien and Andrew Tridgell picked over the results and suggested a few modifications, including sticking a Zener diode across the servo power rail and activating better battery monitoring. The full findings are here.

So, we reassembled the kit and it's good to go stratowards in the next couple of weeks. On board will also be our 900Mhz radio rig, by which Tridge can monitor the Pixhawk's status in real time. Try this schematic of the full rig, and a photo of how that looks in the PRATCHETT payload box:


3689652506?profile=originalThere are full details on PRATCHETT flight right here.

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LOHAN high-altitude test flight in Exmaps

3689640631?profile=originalWe're obliged to the chaps down at Exmaps for sticking the data from a Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) test flight into their "Drone Flight Logbook". The virtual two-hour High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) mission makes for entertaining viewing.

The purpose of the flight in October 2014 was to test our Vulture 2 spaceplane's avionics package - including Pixhawk, servos and batteries - at altitude, to see how it'd handle the cold.


The Exmap virtual flight includes pitch, roll and yaw data as well as altitude. As you can see, HAB payloads take a bit of a beating up there in the stratosphere:


The mission was conducted by our US allies at EDGE Research Laboratory, seen here inflating the mighty orb which carried the kit aloft:


There's more on the mission and Exmaps here

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Vulture 2 spaceplane HIL simulation

3689635427?profile=originalWe've been quietly beavering away at hardware-in-the-loop simulations for our Vulture 2 spaceplane, and Pixhawk wrangler Linus Penzlien has finally got the aircraft to land itself at a virtual Spaceport America.

The HIL work involves ArduPilot controlling an X-Plane model created by Billy Bargagliotti. The APM deploys some custom mission parameters by Andrew Tridgell, plus a smidge of autotune.

For your viewing pleasure, see this short video, grabbed by Linus during a recent simulation.

There are details of the HIL work here, and full coverage of the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission right here.

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LOHAN team touches down at Spaceport America

3689631092?profile=originalA couple of weeks back, myself, David Patterson of EDGE Research Laboratory and our plucky Playmonaut went to check the lie of the land at Spaceport America.


We're still waiting on FAA approval for the launch of our Vulture 2 spaceplane in New Mexico, but we've now got all the information we need for when the big day arrives.


Thanks to the spaceport's operations manager Bill Gutman for the guided tour, and there are more details on our trip right here.

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3689623614?profile=originalLinus Penzlien and Andrew Tridgell have been picking over the log files from the recent stratospheric test flight of our Vulture 2 spaceplane's avionics, and the verdict is largely positive.3689623593?profile=original


Our US allies at Edge Research Lab sent up a Pixhawk, GPS/compass unit, digital airspeed sensor, servos and the two battery packs which power the whole rig (see pic at top).

The Pixhawk was in "servo wiggle" mode - a custom LOHAN ArduPilot AUTO mode command (MAV_CMD_NAV_ASCEND_WAIT) which operates the servos every 15 seconds to prevent them freezing as the Vulture 2 ascends to launch altitude. There's more on the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) custom programming here.

While the external temperature dropped to a teeth-chattering -50°C, it was comparatively tropical 0°C inside the payload box, in line with what we'd expect.


Linus and Tridge have identified some spikes on the servo rail voltage, which may require deployment of a zener diode, and we had the servo rail voltage a tad high at 5.6V:


The data from the airspeed sensor proved entertaining:


Tridge notes: 

"The blue line is the actual airspeed reading, which is apparent airspeed. It was very noisy over a small range. The green line is the true airspeed calculated by TECS during the flight by using the EAS2TAS ratio. The red line is the GPS vertical velocity, which ideally should match the true airspeed.

"The GPS vertical speed and true airspeed do follow the same curve, but are offset by a factor of around 1.5. It would be nice to work out why that is."

Suffice it to say, we're on the case and are planning a second test flight to check out any necessary mods to the system. There's more on the above data and analysis right here.

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Final LOHAN test flight hits 27,700m


It's a big thanks very much to our US allies at Edge Research Lab for carrying out the final test flight for our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project.


Edge sent up a Pixhawk/servo/battery rig to see how the Vulture 2 spaceplane's avionics would handle the cold, and it appears the answer is not too badly.


Autopilot wranglers Linus Penzlien and Andrew Tridgell have cast an eye over the log files, and the initial findings are promising. There are details of the flight, plus a rather splendid video, right here.

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3689616776?profile=originalOur £30k Kickstarter campaign to take our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission to Spaceport America hit its target last night, and we thank all those of you from DIY Drones who chipped in to help the cause.

Our plucky Playmonaut - the rocket-powered Vulture 2 spaceplane's pilot - kicked off the celebrations yesterday, as you can see above. Rest assured, he's now back in training for the historic flight.

There are still a couple of days to run on the campaign, so get down to Kickstarter if you fancy some exclusive LOHAN merchandise. Other than that, it just remains to say see you in New Mexico!

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Thanks to our magnificent US allies at Edge Research Lab, we're able to offer a couple of exclusive ringside seats to the forthcoming launch of our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission, including a light aircraft flight as the ballocket payload (seen above with apprentice boffin Katarina) rises majestically above the desert.

Our Kickstarter campaign to take the Vulture 2 spaceplane flight to Spaceport America looks like its going to hit its target, so if you've got a few bucks spare, and your liver can handle it, consider joining us in person for what promises to be an entertaining experience.

There are more details here. If your schedule or your wallet don't stretch to a VIP pass, join the other DIY Drones members who've already generously chipped in to support the cause. We'll be inviting all backers to a shindig in Las Cruces when we arrive, and will bring you details of that in due course.

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3689615812?profile=originalLinus Penzlien has been working on a hardware-in-the-loop simulation for our Vulture 2 spaceplane, using an X-Plane model of the aircraft by Billy Bargagliotti. During testing Linus managed to hit 630km/h, which he nicely described as " very fast".


It's good stuff, but here's still more HIL, and indeed SITL, excitement ahead from Linus and Andrew Tridgell. There are details on the work to date here.

In the meantime, we wish Tridge and the CanberraUAV team well in the forthcoming UAV Challenge.


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APM:Plane advanced tree avoidance algorithm

3689614975?profile=originalAs we all know, UAVs, High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) payloads, kites and just about anything man-made that flies will be drawn inexorably towards trees by a dark and mysterious force which has so far defied scientific explanation.

As part of the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project, Pixhawk brain surgeons Linus Penzlien and Andrew Tridgell have hewn an APM:Plane advanced arboreal avoidance algorithm from the living code, the better to keep our Vulture 2 spaceplane beyond the grasp of malevolent magnetic trees' limbs.

We can't yet reveal just how the sensational MAG_TREE_AVOID works its magic, but we offer you a bit of weekend fun in naming the parameter.

Tradition dictates that every LOHAN parameter must have a snappy acronym or backronym, so we're running a poll of Register readers' suggestions, to determine the matter.

Among the contenders are AYCARAMBA (Automated Yet Comprehensive Arboreal Recognition And Magnetic Branch Avoidance), LARCH (Lohan Arborial Repulsion Coded Heuristic) and SAMBA (Software Application for Magnetic Branch Avoidance), the last one of course being a tip of the hat to Tridge.

The author of the poll winner will receive some LOHAN stickers, which are currently available as a reward for our ongoing Kickstarter campaign to launch the Vulture 2 at Spaceport America, New Mexico.

3689614863?profile=originalWe're obliged to all those DIY Drones members who've already chipped in to support the cause, and if the rest of you have a few bucks spare, there are plenty of nice rewards on offer.

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Vulture 2 spaceplane gains mighty servo power

3689614367?profile=originalOur Vulture 2 spaceplane has been taken apart and reassembled for the last time, principally to allow us to cram in extra batteries for the servos.


We're powering the servos from eight AA Energizer Ultimate Lithiums, via a Castle Creation BEC. This separates the Pixhawk power supply, and the autopilot now runs off its own four pack of the same batteries.


As you can see above, we've also installed the RFD 900u Radio Modem and antenna, so we're good to go for long-range comms.


It just remains for us to fire the whole thing up and check that we now have enough juice to run the servos for the entire mission. We have no doubt we've got it covered.

There are full details on the mods here.

Down at Kickstarter, meanwhile, we're nudging £20,000 of our £30,000 target to launch the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission from Spaceport America. If you fancy chipping in a few bucks to the cause, we've got a range of tempting rewards available for backers.

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3689613918?profile=originalIt's a big round of applause today for Billy Bargaliotti, who's wrapped our Vulture 2 spaceplane X-Plane models just as we've topped £18,000 on our Kickstarter campaign to get the aircraft off the ground at Spaceport America.

Billy created four models - two for mission simulations with solid rocket booster, and two "trainer" models for a less hair-raising ride. Here's the Vulture swooping down on the New Mexico spaceport...


...and on final approach:


There's more on Billy and the models here, and you can download them here, with explanatory notes. If you can spare a few bucks on Kickstarter, you'll help us to see how the above views look in reality.

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3689613428?profile=originalOur Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission Kickstarter campaign got off to a flying start over the weekend, hitting 100+ backers and almost £5k of our £30 target.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the launch of our Vulture 2 spaceplane has been relocated from Europe to Spaceport America, New Mexico, and we need cash to cover the extra cost.

In return for your support, we're offering top-quality merchandise, with other rewards to follow in the next couple of weeks. It's a tip of the hat to DIYDrones members Andrew Tridgell and Gary Mortimer for opening their wallets, although given Tridge's fantastic support of the mission, the least we can do is send him a few more goodies.

As you can see from the above photo, we're pulling our all the stops in our fundraising drive. Yesterday, apprentice boffin Katarina and the plucky Playmonaut - our aircraft's diminutive pilot - hit the streets in search of extra wonga, armed with hand-crafted sign, LOHAN mug and the obligatory dog on string.

Every little helps, so if you can spare a few bucks to push the envelope of UAV endeavour, get yourself down to Kickstarter.

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3689612483?profile=originalThe forces of bureaucratic darkness have obliged us to relocate the planned launch of the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

You can read the whole epic saga behind the decision right here, but suffice it to say we're heading down to Kickstarter next week to raise cash to cover the extra costs of finally getting the Vulture 2 in the air.

Have a look at the preview here and give us your thoughts. If you're interested in backing our audacious ballocket flight, you can sign up at the top of  preview for en email alert when the campaign kicks off.

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We're obliged to Linus Penzlien (seen above in boffin pipe mode) and Andrew Tridgell for all their hard work last week working on the custom APM:Plane parameters/commands for our Vulture 2 spaceplane.

We were finally able to get the aircraft strapped to the van roof and out for a systems test, and to run the MAV_CMD_NAV_ASCEND_WAIT command, while makes control surfaces "wiggle" every X seconds. This is to prevent the servos freezing up as the Vulture 2 ascends to launch altitude.

The Pixhawk worked fine, and here's a fetching graph of GPS and airspeed sensor speed during our 20 minute test run:


We do, however, have battery issues, and we're certainly going to need more juice. Full details on the test run can be found right here.

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Vulture 2 spaceplane Pixhawk brain surgery


Linus Penzlien (above) is in Spain this week working with Andrew Tridgell on our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) Vulture 2 spaceplane's custom Pixhawk parameters. While Linus is in our magnificent temporary workshop, Tridge is in Canberra tinkering remotely via OpenVPN. Here's an intense Skype chat between the two as we investigate a servo rail voltage anomaly:


There's more on the ongoing brain surgery, and the just what APM:Plane parameters we're cooking up right here.

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