In March of 2016, we began plans to recreate the Apollo Command Module re-entry profile by dropping a 1:12 scale replica from the stratosphere. To gain the needed altitude the capsule was carried to more than 70,000 ft on a high altitude balloon. It was then autonomously cut down triggered by GPS altitude telemetry. It commenced free falling for several minutes and approached descent speeds of 80 mph. As with Apollo, our capsule was equipped with 3 main parachutes which were deployed at 24,000 ft, allowing a safe return to Earth. This project took custom hardware and software, and multiple flights. It was a collaborative effort with the team at Adam Savage’s Tested. More details on the flight and build will be presented at the Tested Live Show at the Castro Theater in San Francisco on Saturday, October 29, 2016.
First, we built the Balloon Integrated Re-programmable Computer, also known as the BRIC. The BRIC is an Arduino based set of custom hardware and software which makes up our flight management computer. It uses GPS and a backup barometer to trigger the cut-down mechanism and parachute deployment. The parachutes are servo controlled spring deployed UAV recovery parachutes, in this case the Mars MINI. The cut-down mechanism was based on a nichrome wire which is heated to melt through the nylon rope. It has a radio transmitter to communicate mission telemetry and location to a mobile ground station. Active heating control keeps batteries and electronics warm without allowing them to overheat. We also designed a custom structure which we 3D printed (with thanks to Stratasys) to house the parachutes and the BRIC inside the capsule. More to come on the build, mission details, and views soon!