An Undergraduate-Built Prototype Altitude Determination System (PADS) for High Altitude Research Balloons.
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
In this project a multi-disciplinary undergraduate team from CUA, comprising majors in Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Biology, design, build, test, fly, and analyze the data from a prototype attitude determination system (PADS). The goal of the experiment is to determine if an inexpensive attitude determination system could be built for high altitude research balloons using MEMS gyros. PADS is a NASA funded project, built by students with the cooperation of CUA faculty, Verner, Bruhweiler, and Abot, along with the contributed expertise of researchers and engineers at NASA/GSFC, Kogut, Lowe, Mirel, and Lazear. The project was initiated through a course taught in CUA’s School of Engineering, which was followed by a devoted effort by students during the summer of 2014. The project is an experiment to use 18 MEMS gyros, similar to those used in many smartphones, to produce an averaged positional error signal that could be compared with the motion of the fixed optical system as recorded through a string of optical images of stellar fields to be stored on a hard drive flown with the experiment. The optical system, camera microprocessor, and hard drive are enclosed in a pressure vessel, which maintains approximately atmospheric pressure throughout the balloon flight. The experiment uses multiple microprocessors to control the camera exposures, record gyro data, and provide thermal control. CUA students also participated in NASA-led design reviews. Four students traveled to NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas to integrate PADS into a large balloon gondola containing other experiments, before being shipped, then launched in mid-August at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. The payload is to fly at a float altitude of 40-45,000 m, and the flight last approximately 15 hours. The payload is to return to earth by parachute and the retrieved data are to be analyzed by CUA undergraduates. A description of the instrument is presented here as well as a preliminary analysis of the anticipated data, which were not available at the time of abstract submission.
Acknowledgements: NASA grant NNX13AR61 under NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program (USIP). Participating Brazilian students acknowledge support through Brazil’s “Science without Borders” program.