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GAGA-1: Some initial investigations

I've been investigating bits and bobs to go into GAGA-1 and have run one freeze test.

1. Components

I've now got the Telit GM862 module up and running with Arduino Duemilanove and have uploaded a simple Python script that SMSes me the device's location once a minute. The module is on the right in the picture and a SparkFun board for it is on the left.

Here's an example SMS received on my phone from the device giving latitude and longitude and GPS status. This format is by no means final, it's just a test.

I've also started working with the Trimble Lassen IQ module which is tiny:

It will eventually be interfaced directly to the Arduino which will connect to the radio to send down telemetry.

2. Freeze test

In my first post on the subject, I said that I'd be doing a freeze test of everything. My first test was to build a simple temperature sensor using an LM35 and then put the Arduino in my home freezer and allow its temperature to drop to -18C for a hour. This test was successful. I was able to read the temperature sensor throughout via a USB cable coming out of the freezer door.

Here's the breadboarded temperature sensor connected to the Arduino in the freezer at the start of the test.

Because the Arduino's analog ports can only handle a positive voltage the negative input to the LM35 is biased (as in the datasheet) using a couple of diodes.

The diodes in series give a voltage drop of about 2V. The LM35 would normally give -550mv at -55C (that temperature is likely to be experienced by GAGA-1 in the stratosphere): with the bias -55C will correspond to about 1.5V. The LM35 is powered by the Arduino's 5V regulated output (it only draws 60µa). The top of the range, 150C would correspond to 3.5V output.

The Arduino's ADC divides the 5V range into 1024 steps or 4.8mV per step. The LM35 gives 10mV per C. So we'll only be able to measure within 0.5C (which is fine for GAGA-1).

An added complexity is that the diodes' forward voltage drop is temperature dependent and so to get a good reading the output from the LM35 is connected to one ADC port and the voltage at the 'top' of the two diodes is connected to another. Reading the two ports and taking the difference gives a more accurate measure of the temperature as it compensates for the drift in the diode forward voltage.

Here's the test code I used.

int temperaturePin = 0;
int biasPin = 1;

void setup() {

void loop() {
while(1) {
int temperature = analogRead(temperaturePin);
int bias = analogRead(biasPin);
int unbiased = temperature - bias;
float celsius = (float)unbiased * 500.0 / 1024.0;

Serial.print( "Temperature: " );
Serial.println( temperature, DEC );
Serial.print( "Bias: " );
Serial.println( bias, DEC );
Serial.print( "Celsius: " );
Serial.println( celsius, 2 );

And here are two excerpts from the log file output (which was just sent by the Arduino down the USB connection to the Wiring application on my Mac).

Temperature: 326 Bias: 279 Celsius: 22.95
Temperature: 255 Bias: 291 Celsius: -17.58

In my fridge test the diodes drifted by about 0.06V.

For the actual project I am going to shift to the GCC toolchain rather than use their IDE. I'll be much happier with emacs, make and gcc.

3. Circuit board

I was initially going to hand build small circuit board for each of the parts of the computer (radio, GPS, backup GPS, temperature sensors), but I've come to the conclusion that between Eagle CAD and BatchPCB that the right thing to do is build a custom board.

So, to simplify my life I'm going to build an Arduino Shield that will slot right onto the Arduino Duemilanove and handle the two GPSes, the radio and temperature sensors. That'll minimize wiring inside GAGA-1 (will just need antenna wiring) and likely be more robust.

Here are the beginnings of the schematic.

Next update: in a few weeks once the board has come together.


Unknown said…
What do you plan on using to measure altitude? I'm assuming you'll want to know how high it's going, especially the peak altitude before the balloon bursts.

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