Yes it is not the usual type of GPS tracking article, this is an intelligent way for universities and colleges to recover valuable equipment especially when sending it 28 kms into the sky.
A college in Denmark – Skals Efterskoles has sent a high tech balloon into the atmosphere as part of a scientific project, the problem is that there is usually little control over a balloon of this type once it is released. Carrying expensive camera and monitoring equipment the balloon was expected to plateaux at 26 kms before deflating.
Now here is where traditionally things get a little awry, once a high altitude balloon deflates thousands of metres up in the atmosphere then it is difficult to predict where the valuable equipment will land. In fact not just is there a danger the equipment can be lost but also important recorded data as well. The purpose of this type of research is often in the data and whilst some of this can be transmitted there is plenty of valuable information that is not.
This is where the Skals Efterskoles physics and astronomy team used their initiative, deployed in the equipment was a GPS tracker and the concept was that they would locate their equipment quickly when the tracker and the remnant balloon fell to earth.
This shows a beautiful Winters day with great weather – picture taken shortly after take-off.
The balloon was set free in Skals and from there drifted down to the middle of Jutland to the west of Silkeborg. Sometime after that the balloon reached its maximum altitude of over 29,000 metres!
As the balloon fell to earth it drifted to a spot 20 kilometres east of Esbjerg, the GPS tracker pinged back to life as it neared 1,000 feet and then of course it had to withstand the landing be that in water or on hard ground. The test showed that the balloon actually attained 3,000 kms higher than predicted and the picture below shows the image from moments before the descent.
This is what 29,000 metres looks like – The high altitude mark before descent.
From here it is a long way to the landing and also a huge potential for further lateral travel as the remnants fall from the sky.
The Balloon travelled in the region of 150 kms+ from its launch point and during its incredible flight headed towards Germany, this would be an extreme test for location even for a highly funded team. Often you would be relying on some type of public interaction but this terrain and the route predicted is not densely populated.
There is a high potential for the equipment and data to be lost and be irretrievable and so the deployment of a GPS tracker was going to even up these odds but only if the tracker was up to the job.
Universities and colleges do not have huge research and development budgets so a low cost solution was needed, the GPS tracker was from NinjaTracking and the main advantage of this solution would be the ability to interact with the tracker remotely from a control panel.
Using this panel the team were able to locate the tracker as it re-entered the GSM / GPRS network and with it sending a signal every 10 seconds a very accurate position should be recorded at its final resting place.
This map shows the journey and the amazing distance covered.
The team were able to track the balloon remnants from their Skals location and they travelled South through the Danish countryside. Using the tracker control panel from an Ipad they were able to home in on their valuable equipment and data.
Once the balloon entered GSM / GPRS signal it had left a trail of location points until it landed 20 miles from Esberg, they continued in their travels gradually getting closer and finally had to resort to foot. The tracker was still accessible from the mobile control panel accessed via the Ipad and smart phones and the team walked across the countryside to where the last position was recorded.
Using the ‘locate now’ command showed another position almost on top of the last one and then they found the tracker and the remnants in some brush within 1 metre of the recorded GPS position.
This experiment was successful and the recovery of the equipment and extra data made the use of GPS tracking a viable and dependable way to retrieve it. The process and logic for utilising technology was a sound one and should be utilised by colleges, schools and universities when deploying equipment that has the potential to be lost.