ALIEN – ALtitude Imaging Entering Near-space

June 25, 2010

ALIEN moved to Github

Filed under: Uncategorized — Daniel Richman @ 19:19

I’ve moved the ALIEN code repository to Github, it’s now at I’ve also added some ALIEN 2 schematic work, and properly released the ALIEN 1 schematic and board (eagle files) under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UK license. Have a look!

(PS: I imported the history from the svn repo using this guide:

June 19, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Daniel Richman @ 10:44

Further to my last post – I’ve now had some time to play with the XPLAIN board and I have successfully followed this guide to program the device without any external programmers: using code from the “LUFA” project you flash the on-board ATUSB with a bridge to access the XMEGA’s PDI pins; and the USB device pretends to be an AVRISPmkII. Great success!

Couple of notes:

  • Don’t even bother trying FLIP on linux, especially not 64bit. Compile the LUFA code on linux if you don’t have WINAVR installed, reboot to your dual boot windows, do the first half of that article (flashing the ATUSB) and then come back to linux to use avrdude and access the ATXMEGA
  • The article mentions that AVRDUDE doesn’t yet support PDI programming. Since then it would appear to have been implemented, however, AVRDUDE for Ubuntu 9.10 is too old to do PDI programming. You can just install the 10.04 deb. You know your AVRDUDE is too old if you get either of these
    avrdude: Yikes!  Invalid device signature.
    avrdude: verification error; content mismatch
  • If you’re having trouble accessing the ATUSB’s bootloader, jumper pins 1 and 2 like it says, connect up the USB power, then using whatever metallic tool you have nearest to you, tap the RST (middle top) pin to one of the ground pins on the ATUSB’s header (pins 6 and 10, I believe).
  • Stuff like DDRB and PINB and PORTB as you knew it has been changed when using avrlibc in xmega mode: PORTB.DIR, PORTB.OUT, PORTB.IN.

PS: I attempted to restore the xplain to its funky-sound-flashy-state using the hex files that are provided by AVR, on the xplain pages, however this did not work (perhaps an oddity of avrdude). Instead, I used avrdude -U flash:r:temp.hex:i to back up the contents of its flash before I overwrote anything, and used that file to reset the xmega to its original state later.

June 16, 2010

The robot escort clearly left his laser cannon at home

Filed under: Uncategorized — Daniel Richman @ 18:29

Let the ALIEN#2 work begin… in 1 week. It’s still exam season so persuading the Physics department to lend an oscilloscope will have to wait, but while work itself isn’t taking place, I can still have the kind postman deliver funky stuff. First up is the XPLAIN evaluation board. We’re considering an XMEGA due to the need for many many UARTs and a DAC on our second flight, so before committing to having a PCB fabricated I’m going to use this thing to breadboard our flightcomputer. Oh, we’ve also got an NiM2, thanks to the people at Radiometrix who have showed their kindness yet again in donation.

May 3, 2010

ALIEN-1 Photographs

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbasuita @ 16:17

Alienhab photo sets on Flickr

ALIEN-1 was equipped with a Canon Powershot A560, which was programmed to capture a photo every 5 seconds, resulting in some 3,000 images. We’ve sorted through them and uploaded some of our favourites; they really amazed us and we hope you like them too!

The Powershot A560 has been used on several launches previously and is a tried and tested model for high-altitude imaging. As you can see it really isn’t anything special, which goes to show how good these cheap compacts really are! Technical details can be found on Canon’s website here. We plan to make large prints and possibly canvases soon.

High Altitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — Daniel Richman @ 12:29

Due to our messages being only 50 baud, the payload could only send down one telemetry string every 15 seconds. Therefore it may have originally looked as if our highest altitude was infact 33,116m, from message 10140. However having recovered the payload we’ve got the second-by-second GPS log back, and here is the log of the burst!

$$A1,10145,14:11:22,52.237948,000.520583,33150,0000,09,2A412A32,45*6D | 14:11:22: N52.237948 E000.520583 33150M (09 satellites), Internal: 32.5'C, External: 25.0'C
$$A1,10146,14:11:23,52.237980,000.520791,33156,0000,10,2A412A32,45*64 | 14:11:23: N52.237980 E000.520791 33156M (10 satellites), Internal: 32.5'C, External: 25.0'C
$$A1,10147,14:11:24,52.238000,000.520976,33158,0000,09,2A412A32,45*6D | 14:11:24: N52.238000 E000.520976 33158M (09 satellites), Internal: 32.5'C, External: 25.0'C
$$A1,10148,14:11:25,52.238026,000.521156,33155,0000,09,2A412A32,45*61 | 14:11:25: N52.238026 E000.521156 33155M (09 satellites), Internal: 32.5'C, External: 25.0'C
$$A1,10149,14:11:26,52.238075,000.521343,33147,0000,09,2A412A32,45*60 | 14:11:26: N52.238075 E000.521343 33147M (09 satellites), Internal: 32.5'C, External: 25.0'C

Giving us a highest achieved altitude of 33.158KM: which is (at the time of blogging) third place in the UKHAS UK Records.

Furthermore, the full flight logs from power on to landing are available here, decoded & annotated here, and gnuplot graphs of various metrics are available below.

Is this a runway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — abreton @ 10:53

Hi everyone

Here comes the slow trickle of photos from ALIEN-1. We thought this one was quite interesting, since it appears to have a runway through the cloud, in the lower middle.

What do you think?


$$A1,09666,14:03:22,52.226133,000.377006,29944,0000,09,223B2216,45*1C | 14:03:22: N52.226133 E000.377006 29944M (09 satellites), Internal: 29.5'C, External: 11.0'C

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence

May 2, 2010

Sneak Preview

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbasuita @ 21:24

Hi all. First of all, I would like to say today has been really awesome – things couldn’t have gone better with our first launch. Anyway, we’re pretty tired at the moment and have got almost 3,000 pictures to organise. A big writeup will be coming, but in the meantime here’s a nice ‘sneak preview’ from ~30km altitude…


The Payload data (and an annotated decode of what it means) for the second that this photo was taken is pasted below
$$A1,10210,14:12:27,52.240798,000.540368,29694,0000,07,2B42ABFF,45*15 | 14:12:27: N52.240798 E000.540368 29694M (07 satellites), Internal: 33.0'C, External: 0.5'C

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence


Filed under: Uncategorized — sbasuita @ 09:03

You’ll need this software to upload your received telemetry to the central tracker, for more information see or go on #highaltitude at for help (webchat here).

Dl-Fldigi Version “1” (Tried, tested and reccomended)

Dl-Fldigi Version 2 (NOT RECOMMENDED: Beta, but better)

Pre-Launch Checks

Filed under: Uncategorized — abreton @ 08:04

Launching a weather balloon is not any old weekend botch job – it requires very careful planning. Having been roused from my slumber at 0720 BST, it is time to run the pre-launch checks, ensuring we have the following:

  • Balloon – check
  • Yagi – check
  • Cable ties – check
  • Bring extra batteries – check
  • Top up phone – check
  • Sheet to put on ground
  • Umbrella
  • Cameras – check
  • Free lift weights (water bottles) – check
  • 3G Dongles – check
  • Car chargers for everything – check
  • Glue gun & Glue – check
  • Camera-activating Ruler – to turn the camera on once it’s in the box. Requires a long thin rod, like a ruler. – check
  • Coordinate-entry-supporting srs Handheld GPS Receiver – check
  • Turn by turn car Satnav – check

Last but most certainly not least:

  • Food.

May 1, 2010

ALIEN-1 Launch Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbasuita @ 13:11

Current plans are to arrive at EARS at 1100 BST and launch at 1300 BST.

EDIT: That’s Sunday 2nd May.

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