A landing site prediction system for high-altitude balloons

The science and engineering team at the ANU's Advanced Instrumentation & Technology Centre (AITC) on Mount Stromlo is planning to fly several high-altitude balloon (HAB) missions to carry out experiments in the upper stratosphere, at the edge of space. These large helium-filled balloons are released at ground level with payloads attached, climbing for 90 minutes to an altitude of around 30 km before bursting. The payloads then return to Earth via a parachute, landing around 200 km from the launch site depending on wind conditions. The payloads and science data are then recovered.

During a flight, an on-board GPS tracker transmits the balloon's position back to Earth via a radio link. Internet-based tools can also be used to predict the landing site, allowing ground crews to begin 'chasing' the balloon immediately after launch. The problem is that mobile internet connections are very unreliable when out in the field, and this poses a significant threat to successfully recovering payloads.

This project will involve designing and flight-testing a fully self-contained landing predictor to increase the chances of balloon payload recovery. The idea is to use real time GPS data during the balloon's ascent to model the current wind patterns, and then apply this model to the payload's decent to predict the landing site. Depending on the chosen applicant's abilities and interests, there is also scope to send high-resolution image data from the balloon, stream live video via a 4G broadband link at low altitudes, and much more.

Undergraduates studying computing, electronics, mathematics or physics would make good candidates for this project. The successful applicant will have experience in programming (preferably in Python) and data analysis/modelling. Knowledge of Raspberry Pi computers and/or Linux operating systems is a plus, but is not essential. An understanding of basic electronics and radio communications would be appropriate, although the individual would be welcome to focus purely on developing high quality prediction algorithms if preferred.

This is your chance to join the AITC science and engineering team and play an active role in our vision of a high-altitude science platform for atmospheric, astronomical and space research. If schedule permits, there will also be an opportunity to experience the excitement of a real launch and recovery!

For more information, please contact Dr James Gilbert directly.

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