Many of you remember the High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Challenge, a national competition hosted by SEDS in 2014. The competition was quite a success—twelve SEDS-USA chapters competed and five finalists were chosen. These five finalists conducted high altitude balloon experiments measuring a range of technical and environmental factors. The winners of the 2014 High Altitude Balloon Competition and their experiments are:
- 1st Place: University of Buffalo, characterizing radio noise to improve CubeSat communications
- 2nd Place: University of Central Florida, exploring the effects of radiation on 3D printed plastics
- 3rd Place: University of Arizona, testing the plausibility near-space payload solar power generation
You’re probably thinking the same thing I was when I read the reports of the winning teams: “wow… badass.”
That was a great year for the stratosphere as 2014 was also the inaugural year for the Global Space Balloon Challenge. In the first year of the Challenge, 60 teams from 18 countries on 6 continents flew together, helping each other and sharing their stories every step of the way. People of all backgrounds, ages, and walks of life participated, many of whom had never touched a high altitude balloon or studied engineering before the GSBC.
So we decided to expand our reach. In 2015, SEDS partnered with the Global Space Balloon Challenge to increase our impact and integrate our competing chapters into a greater community of high altitude balloonists. We created the Best Space Technology Demonstration Prize of the GSBC, since the high altitude balloon environment is a great place to test out new ideas and concepts for hardware to be used in space before it is actually flown on an expensive rocket or satellite. Competing teams were required to report on the technology flown, how the technology could be used on a current or future space mission, the testing done on a HAB flown during the GSBC, and the work that remains to finalize and prove the technology before flight to space, to be evaluated by a panel of judges.
When I read the reports of this year’s finalists, I was blown away by the level of professionalism and technical expertise exhibited by the teams’ reports. Again: “wow… badass.” The competition was close, but in the end the winning team was determined to be the Mobile Networking for Space Technology Experimental Research team (MONSTER) of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Russia).
The team flew two balloons southeast of Moscow, Russia a few minutes apart and not only had each balloon send information back to the ground via Software-Defined Radio (SDR), but had them send information back and forth to each other, and then relay that information to the ground for confirmation. The team’s communication was based on a BladeRF SDR controlled via a Raspberry Pi 2 with GNU radio on the software side. They effectively studied the communication between the two HABs, looking at signal to noise ratio, ability to switch between transmitting and receiving efficiently, and comparing packet reception time and frequency between the balloons and the ground stations. Here is the team’s technical report. The team won $500 cash and four tickets to their choice of SATELLITE 2016 in Washington, DC or NewSpace 2016 in Seattle, WA.
Congratulations to MONSTER and all the other teams that competed in this year’s Global Space Balloon Challenge. We are inspired by your efforts and can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!
SEDS-USA Chair of the Board of Directors
Arizona State University