A key goal of the ASTRA initiative (www.soton.ac.uk/~astra
) is to reduce the development cycle time of a high altitude atmospheric research platform to mere days from specification (that is, the definition of the space, weight, power and exposure requirements of the instruments to be flown) to test flight.
The ASTRA Cube demonstrator was conceived to test two key rapid prototyping technologies we aim to use towards this goal: additive manufacturing and rapid electronic prototyping. ABS-based 3d printing represented the former here, while for the latter we used .NET Gadgeteer.
Launched under a 1.5kg latex balloon from the UK MetOffice research facility at Camborne (England) during its stratospheric flight lasting just over 4 hours the ASTRA Cube Gadgeteer demonstrator reached a peak altitude of just under 35km (~115,000 feet). In the course of the flight it recorded temperature (dipping to -61C), pressure, humidity and images, as well as key parameters of its trajectory.
The imagery captured by the small Gadgeteer camera included the sunset picture shown here, which, incidentally, features a series of internal gravity wave clouds. Such waves are caused by air masses oscillating around their equilibrium position under the action of the opposing forces of gravity and buoyancy.
The clip illustrates the rapid development process which the ASTRA Cube resulted from, from the CAD design of the Cube itself to the design of the on-board systems in Visual Studio.