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Here is a storehouse for active and recent Far Horizons projects. Every near space flight involves a range of scientific and engineering challenges. The Far Horizons team has over 7 years of experience in designing a wide range of scientific experiments and flight components. On this page you'll find proposed, working and completed projects from the last couple of years. We hope they can help to inspire your own projects or help you build from our experience. If you have some suggestions, experience or improvements on any of our projects, we'd like to hear from you. Do-it-yourself space exploration is a group effort.


Ground-Based Telescopic Tracking System for HAB Missions

1.1 Project Description Far Horizons High Altitude Balloon (HAB) missions routinely reach altitudes of 30km (100,000ft). Presently, the data from flight experiments are only obtained after the successful recovery of the payload. Live telemetry and 2-way communications is an ultimate goal for our missions. As a step in that direction, we plan to design and build a remote observing system to monitor flights in real time using telescopes at the Adler or in the field that will observe the flights. This system will be the foundation of a ground-based communications system for future HAB and CubeSat missions.

1.2 Target Goals

1.2.1 Create a telescopic system which can maintain a visual lock on the balloon in a typical FH HAB mission within a 2° FOV over the duration of the flight from any ground location.
1.2.2 Demonstrate the repeatability of the system.

1.3 Interests and Skill Sets Engineering, electronics, microprocessors, programming and atmospheric science

1.4 Team Participants

1.4.1 Project Lead         Andrew
1.4.2 System Programmers   Duncan
1.4.3 Mechanical Designer
1.4.4 Project Assistants

Sun Sensor and Attitude Control System for HAB Missions

2.1. Project Description Over the past year the Far Horizons Project (with assistance of 2011 IMSA intern Josh Fornek) designed and tested a passively stabilized instrument frame for use in High Altitude Balloon flights. The frames utilize a method of mass distribution to increase the moment of inertia of the instrument frame. This has greatly increased our ability to collect scientific data requiring precision pointing. To perfect this system and allow our missions to perform a variety of precise astronomic and field observations, we need to increase the pointing accuracy to a precision of >1°/s. Participants on this project will research active stabilization methods, design and build systems for in-flight tests and design methods for the determination of accuracy.

2.2. Target Goals The final system will be required to demonstrate a pointing precision better than 1°/s.

2.3. Interests and Skill Sets Aerospace engineering, electronics, microprocessors and atmospheric/astronomical science

2.4. Team Participants

2.4.1 Project Lead
2.4.2 Mechanical Designer
2.4.3 Software Designer
2.4.4 Electrical Systems Designer
2.4.5 Project Assistants

HAB Altitude Control System

3.1. Project Description Small-scale HAB flights (≤3000g latex balloons) are historically dependent on local conditions. HABs are a passive vehicle primarily controlled by prevailing winds. For safety, improved experiment-dependent data collection and flight control, the utilization of an altitude control system offers the possibility of longer and more effective missions. Interns involved in this project will research, design, build, lab test and perform in-flight proof of concepts of their system. Maintaining a target altitude within a range of ±150m over 30 minutes is the goal of this project. Possible approaches include controlled pressure venting and ballast management.

3.2. Target Goals

3.2.1 The system will need to reach and maintain a specified target altitude and maintain that altitude within a range of ±150m over 30 minutes.
3.2.2 The system will be able to actively achieve an ascent velocity alteration from the average flight baseline of ±20%

3.3. Interests and Skill Sets Aerospace engineering, electronics, microprocessors and atmospheric science.

3.4. Team Participants

3.4.1 Project Lead        Geza
3.4.2 Mechanical Designer Ken
3.4.3 Programmer          Kevin
3.4.4 Project Designers   IMSA Team

Hydrogen Balloon

4.1. Project Description Helium and Hydrogen are two common lift gases used for HABs. The Far Horizons Project has used Helium for HAB launches because it is efficient and is a safe inert gas. With the current helium shortage, the use of hydrogen is becoming a more pressing option. Before a switch can be made from Helium to Hydrogen, specialized launch procedures are needed to the insure safe use of hydrogen.

4.2. Target Goals The successful use of Hydrogen for HAB flights will require:

4.2.1 A specialized launch procedure to ensure safe handling and flights;
4.2.2 Documentation supporting the above procedures
4.2.3 Successful and safe proof of concept before initiation of full scale hydrogen flight

4.3. Interests and Skill Sets

4.4. Team Participants

4.4.1 Project Lead       Mark H
4.4.2 Chemical Engineer  Alex W
4.4.3 Safety Expert      Alan

SPARK: Rocket Payload

5.1. Project Description The SPARK rocket requires a variety of hardware including an independent safeing system, flight confirmation data collection, GPS, retrieval beacon among other elements to complete the mission. All these components are referred to as the SPARK Rocket Payload.

5.2. Target Goals The SPARK Rocket Payload will:

5.2.1 Allow for the rocket to remain safe at all stages of the mission including the flight;
5.2.2 Confirm the success or failure of the mission by collecting flight data;
5.2.3 Receive and log GPS data at a rate that allows confirmation of trajectory and successful retrieval;
5.2.4 Communicate its location to allow retrieval;

5.3. Interests and Skill Sets

5.4. Team Participants

5.4.1 Project Lead
5.4.2 Project Assistants

SPARK: Launch Platform Systems

6.1. Project Description

A supporting structure is required to carry the instruments and systems lifted by the balloon. This structure must be rigid, strong, and lightweight. For stability, it should have a maximum moment of inertia.

6.2. Target Goals

Conceive, design and test several launch platforms, using different materials and configurations.

6.3. Interests and Skill Sets

6.4. Team Participants

6.4.1 Project Lead
6.4.2 Project Assistants

SPARK: Balloon System

7.1. Project Description

7.2. Target Goals

7.3. Interests and Skill Sets

7.4. Team Participants

7.4.1 Project Lead
7.4.2 Project Assistants

SPARK: Rocket Aerodynamics

8.1. Project Description

Because of the high velocities required for this flight, the rocket's body will need to be able to handle very large stresses. The rocket will be subject to conditions above Mach 2 where the force caused by drag could potentially crush the rocket. The rocket also has to be efficiently designed to prevent the generation of high temperatures around the body of the rocket.

8.2. Target Goals

8.2.1 To create a structurally sound rocket capable of supersonic flight, including;
  • Nose cone design
  • Fin design

8.3. Interests and Skill Sets

Fluid mechanics

8.4. Team Participants

8.4.1 Project Lead          Alexander
8.4.2 Project Assistants

Two Way Communication System

9.1. Project Description Other than the real-time reception of GPS data via HAM radio channels and via the APRS system, all data from Far Horizons flights are collected after the successful retrieval of the payload and its contents. Effective 2-way communication between the payload and mobile or land-based receivers would allow the real-time collection of experiment data, flight status and flight safeing. Toward this end, this project would create an effective and reliable downlink and uplink system for use throughout FH flights. A future application of this system could include communications for a CubeSat mission, so additional considerations of the system design should be sympathetic to this capability. As a developmental step in the success of this project see: Ground-Based Telescope Tracking System

9.2. Target Goals

9.3. Interests and Skill Sets

9.4. Team Participants

9.4.1 Project Lead                 Vidya Gopalakrishnan
9.4.2 Microcontroller Programmer   Michael R. Horton
9.4.3 Electrical Systems Designer  Vidya Gopalakrishnan 
9.4.4 Project Assistants Anuja Mahashabde

Stratospheric Microbial Trap

10.1. Project Description The existence of extremophiles, as well as viable spores at high altitudes is of extreme interest for many reasons, such as astrobiology, biogenesis, genetic analysis. In order to detect whether or not they exist in the stratosphere, HABs are required. The ASW team is currently working to create a device that will capture any microbes present at high altitudes in order for us to detect it.

10.2. Target Goals

  • Determine the kinetics of collection.
  • Determine minimum airflow required; to be determined by estimated biogene density.
  • Seal must withstand Δp of ~1000mb. Must have mass of ≤1.8kg.
  • Must be sterile or have a system to sterilize it.

10.3. Interests and Skill Sets

10.4. Team Participants

 10.4.1.   Project Lead       ASW Team
 10.4.2.        Project Assistants
 10.4.3.        Mechanical Designer
 10.4.4.        Microcontrol Program

HAB Stabilized Payload Platform

11.1. Project Description The method of passive stabilization using a large wide frame has been used in previous Far Horizons flights. The concept behind this method takes advantage of the increased moment of inertia by distributing the payload masses out from the central point of rotation connecting the balloon to the payload.

11.2. Target Goals The final functional frame design must demonstrate in flight:

11.2.1 A maximum weight of 1kg;
11.2.2 The ability to distribute >90% of the payload mass ≥1.5 meters off the center axis of the payload structure;
11.2.3 A structural rigidity with a maximum flexure of no greater than 5% in any axial direction;
11.2.4 A simplicity of design allowing easy transport, assembly and break down.

11.3. Interests and Skill Sets

11.4. Team Participants

11.4.1 Project Lead       Ken W
11.4.2 Component Designer Chas
11.4.3 Project Assistants Sean

Tracking Software System

12.1. Project Description

12.2. Target Goals

12.3. Interests and Skill Sets

12.4. Team Participants

12.4.1 Project Lead        Geza
12.4.2 Java Programmer     Ted
12.4.3 Programmer 2        Andrew
12.4.4 Interface Designer  Noah

Controlled Descent System

13.1. Project Description

13.2. Target Goals

13.3. Interests and Skill Sets

13.4. Team Participants

13.4.1 Project Lead
13.4.2 Database Programmer
13.4.3 Software Programmer
13.4.4 Project Assistants

Wireless Cut-Down Mechanism

14.1. Project Description HAB flight paths are primarily driven by winds, to a lesser degree the ascent and descent speed and finally by the burst altitude. Determining the altitude that the payload separates from the balloon allows an increased degree of flight control.

14.2. Target Goals

14.3. Interests and Skill Sets

14.4. Team Participants

14.4.1 Project Lead                    Dr. Lou
14.4.2 Electrical Engineer             
14.4.3 Communications System Designer
14.4.4 Project Assistants              IMSA Team

Balloon-Borne Low-Powered Rocket Ignition System

15.1. Project Description Launching a rocket from a HAB platform requires a stable platform, a reliable safeing system to prevent ignition at any point other than at the predetermined altitude and a reliable ignition system which can function under stratospheric conditions.

15.2. Target Goals

15.2.1 Safely perform an ignition of a hobby (D-size, solid propellant) rocket motor at a predetermined altitude from a HAB platform
15.2.2 Monitor and log system vitals throughout the HAB ascent and at launch
15.2.3 Collect launch and flight video to confirm the conditions and timing of the rocket launch and flight

15.3. Interests and Skill Sets Electrical systems design, systems design and programming, mechanical design, rocketry

15.4. Team Participants

15.4.1 Project Lead       Arpan
15.4.2 Electrical Engineer
15.4.3 Project Assistants

SPARK: Safety, Legal and Liability

16.1. Project Description The SPARK mission requires a complex mix of technologies and systems to succeed - such as HAB flights, amateur rocketry, communications, etc. Taken individually, there are many preexisting rules, laws and safety guidelines for each of those systems but in tandem there are many questions that need to be clarified to ensure a safe and legal mission. The SPARK mission requires a clear understanding of the restrictions and allowances covering all the aspects of the project.

16.2. Target Goals

16.2.1 To create a document to confirm all aspects of the SPARK mission are safe and legal and that can be used as a guiding framework for the mission.

16.3. Interests and Skill Sets Legal research, safety reporting, rocketry

16.4. Team Participants

16.4.1 Project Lead       Alan
16.4.2 Project Assistants

SPARK: Pressure Sensor

17.1. Project Description

Interface a MPX2050 Pressure Sensor to an Arduino

17.2. Target Goals

17.2.1 Interface a MPX2050 Pressure Sensor to an Arduino to measure atmospheric pressure at high altitudes.

17.3. Interests and Skill Sets

  • C (Arduino) Programming
  • Eagle Circuit Editor
  • Circuit Board Fabrication

17.4. Team Participants

17.4.1 Project Lead        Jeff
17.4.2 Project Assistants

HAB Voltage Monitor

18.1. Project Description

  • To meet power requirements of rocket system in extreme conditions including cold need to test batteries at high altitude. Throughout a complete HAB mission, monitor two brands of Lithium Thionyl Chloride AA batteries using an Arduino equiped with SD card shield to record voltage levels both with and without loads.

18.2. Target Goals

  • Record battery performance voltage levels at one second intervals along with temperature using temperature sensor capable of operation in extreme cold(-60C)

18.3. Interests and Skill Sets

  • C (Arduino) Programming
  • Design and building electronics of AA battery testing setup

18.4. Team Participants

18.4.1 Project Lead       Fred
18.4.2 Project Assistants Jake

Low Light Camera Testing

19.1. Project Description The GoPro camera system will be used at night to capture imagery or video of astronomical events such as conjuctions. Cameras include a system which automatically adapts to low light, creating noise and other optical defects when point sources of light are against a dark sky.

19.2. Target Goals

19.2.1 Test the cameras' sensitivities to light with a series of LEDs of varying brightness.

19.2.2 Compare results between GoPro 1,2&3 with 1080p and other frame rates and qualities for GoPro 3.

19.3. Interests and Skill Sets Optics, photography, electronics.

19.4. Team Participants

19.4.1 Project Lead       Ryan & Collin

Arduino Based Geiger Counter

20.1. Project Description To replace the inefficient data processing of the Basic Stamp with the use of the Arduino in order to read the Geiger counter pulses more efficiently, and record the data in an improved format on the SD card.

20.2. Target Goals

20.2.1 Collect Geiger counter data on SD card for duration of HAB flights using the Arduino.
20.2.2 Write program to parse data from Geiger counter for the above objective using efficient electronics for input.

20.3. Interests and Skill Sets Electronics, C(Arduino) programming, microprocessors and data processing

20.4. Team Participants

20.4.1 Project Lead        Fred
20.4.2 Programmer          Fred & Roxanne
20.4.3 Project Designers   Fred & Roxanne

Hi-Res Panoramic Imaging

21.1. Project Description To capture a Hi-Res 360 Panoramic Image from the stratosphere.

21.2. Target Goals

21.2.1 Need to capture a full 360 degree image with a minimum resolution to be determined by designer.
21.2.2 Determine parameters for a continuous undistorted image.
21.2.3 Ensure that the camera will be protected and that it is able to be sent on multiple flights.
21.2.4 Develop a method to autonomously control the camera.

21.3. Interests and Skill Sets Arduino, Electronics, Mechanical Design, Imaging Experience

21.4. Team Participants

21.4.1 Project Lead        Ken
21.4.2 Mechanical Designer Brian
21.4.3 Programmer          Laron and Saul
21.4.4 Project Designers   '

Cosmic Ray Experiment

22.1. Project Description Cosmic rays are streams of high-energy particles that originate in the space. Some of these high-energy particles decay into secondary particles that can penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. One such particle that can reach the surface of the Earth is the muon. In this experiment, two pieces of muon-sensitive scintillating material were attached to respective photomultiplier tubes. These systems make up the two counters of the cosmic ray detector.

22.2. Target Goals

22.2.1 Collect and log data from Cosmic Ray Detector throughout HAB flight using Arduino.
22.2.2 Schematic and printed circuit boards.
22.2.3 Investigate optical fiber interface.
22.2.4 Investigate scintillator geometriies.
22.2.5 Investigate Silicon Photomultiplier (SiPM).

22.3. Interests and Skill Sets Arduino, Electronics, Optics, Particle Physics

22.4. Team Participants

22.4.1 Project Lead        Lou
22.4.2 Mechanical Designer James, Saul, and Evan
22.4.3 Programmer          Lizzie, Shukan, and Kelli
22.4.4 Project Designers   ASW 2013 Team

High Altitude PV Monitor

23.1. Project Description Photovoltaic cells convert light to electricity that can be used as power. This project aims to measure the efficiency of a photovoltaic cell as it ascends through the atmosphere. At different levels in the atmosphere, the thickness and composition effect the different wavelengths of light that are able to permeate it. Because PV cells respond to light in both the ultraviolet and visible spectrum, this experiment will record the efficiency of a PV cell versus the readings of a visible light sensor throughout the flight.

23.2. Target Goals

23.2.1 Collect data on the efficiency of a solar cell as it ascends through the atmosphere during a flight.
23.2.2 Analyze data from a successful flight to see how dependent the efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is on the amount of visible light.

23.3. Interests and Skill Sets

23.4. Team Participants

23.4.1 Project Lead        Quinn
23.4.2 Mechanical Designer Quinn
23.4.3 Programmer          Quinn
23.4.4 Project Designers   Quinn

Lab Organization Tasks

24.1. Project Description Miscellaneous things that need to be done to help organize lab operations.

24.2. Target Goals Varies

24.3. Interests and Skill Sets A recognition that at least some order must lurk beneath the chaos, an ability to make that happen when necessary and to do it with care and accuracy.

24.4. Team Participants Varies.

24.4.1 Project Lead Lou, Ken
24.4.2 Project Assistants

High Altitude Parawing Control System

25.1 Project Description Parawing kites are a potential last stage system for a lightweight Mars entry vehicle such as a CubeSat or Nano-satellite lander. The use of a parawing kite may also allow a certain level of navigation control to the lander. The atmosphere

25.2 Target Goals

25.2.1 Test the flight dynamics of a parawing kite released at altitude (≥100,000 feet) and at an initial velocity of ~400mph
25.2.2 Collect and record relevant data sets to analyze flight dynamics
25.2.3 Use passive and/or active control to test the potential effectiveness of flight path alteration

25.3 Interests and Skill Sets Engineering, electronics, microprocessors, aerodynamics, control systems

25.4 Team Participants

25.4.1 Project Lead         Ken W
25.4.2 System Programmers   
25.4.3 Mechanical Designer         WPCP Team
25.4.4 Project Assistants          WPCP Team
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