Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/16/pi_mission/

Raspberry Pi space jaunt ends in dramatic mountain rescue

Slovakian team tracks stunning globes to snow-capped peak

By Lester Haines

Posted in SPB, 16th April 2013 12:45 GMT

Blighty's two-pronged High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) assault on Europe over the weekend ended dramatically with the rescue of one payload from the slopes of a snow-capped Austrian mountain, while the other is officially AWOL somewhere in France.

Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team members Dave Akerman and Anthony Stirk launched two mighty orbs - PIE and AVA - on Saturday from Cambridgeshire. Dave's carried a Raspberry Pi camera set-up, rigged to beam back live Slow Scan Digital Video (SSDV) pics, while Anthony's AVA packed a 70cm tracker and APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) unit.

The "floater" balloons were deliberately underfilled with hydrogen, so they'd soar to altitude without bursting, and maintain height as they drifted with the wind.

Agreeably, Raspberry Pi Foundation co-founder Eben Upton was on hand to lend a hand with the team's trademark pink gaffer tape...

Anthony Stirk, Dave Akerman and Eben Upton

Pretty in pink: Anthony Stirk (in foreground), Dave Akerman and Eben Upton

...and balloon wrangling duty:

Dave Akerman and Eben Upton with the two balloons

Dave Akerman (left) and Eben Upton

As you'd expect from the architect of LOHAN's Special Project Electronic Altitude Release System (SPEARS) control board, Anthony's payload featured some quality artwork, presumably designed to convey a "we come in peace" message to any unsuspecting European who stumbled across AVA:

Anthony Stirk's AVA payload attached to the balloon

Anthony wrestles with AVA

In the event, AVA nearly didn't travel further than 500m, narrowly clearing trees at the launch site before deciding to play ball and soar heavenwards. Dave's balloon took off without incident, and the PiCam was soon beaming back images from aloft.

Image of clouds from the Pi camera

Up, up and away: Image from the Paspberry Pi camera

Among the snaps was this attractive "solar raspberry"...

Lens flare captured as the Pi camera snaps the Sun

Solar raspberry: A fetching snap from the PiCam

...although many of the images were the inky blackness of the European night, as the balloon travelled eastwards. The last signal, before the PiCam went off-radar, was this tantalising glimpse of the approaching dawn:

Glimpse of dawn from the Pi camera

Glimpse of dawn before contact was lost

HAB fans stalk gorgeous globes

Armchair HAB aficionados were able to follow the two globes' progress online, although Anthony suffered intermittent transmission problems which led him to conclude late on Saturday night that his payload had been lost.

The lot of the two balloons seen on a Google map

PIE and AVA invade Europe

On Sunday morning, though, AVA was back on the air over the Czech Republic, just before balloon burst and a landing on an Austrian mountain, right here.

Cue an audacious rescue mission by Brano Janicek, Juraj Marsalik, Radim Mutina and Peter Vittek - a group of Slovakian HAB enthusiasts from stsproject.net, who assembled their kit...

The recovery team prepares to find the AVA payload

The Slovakian recovery team prepares for the ascent

...and assaulted the slopes of Arabichi:

The AVA recovery team trekking up a mountain

The team sets off in search of AVA

The mission ended in complete success when they found the remains of the balloon...

The remains of the balloon in the snow

Shredded latex

...and AVA, still smiling:

The AVA payload recovered on a snow-capped mountain

Peter Vittek, Radim Mutina and Juraj Marsalik pose with AVA.
Pic: Brano Janicek

XXX poses with the recovered AVA payload

Peter Vittek and AVA

Dave's Pi payload, meanwhile, decided not to follow its projected course towards Poland, and hung a right to transverse Switzerland, before probably coming down in France on Sunday morning.

It's possible he may get PIE back, if locals bearing flaming torches and pitchforks don't take exception to its unnatural pinkness.

There's more on the flights from Anthony and Dave here and here, respectively. Thanks to them and the other photographers for permission to use the above snaps. ®