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July 13, 2018

The HAPP Project

Thanks to advancements in IT and DIY fabrication, missions reserved for national space agencies just a decade ago are becoming increasingly accessible to hobbyists. Cue the High Altitude Photography Platform (HAPP), created by Christopher Couch and James Mayes.

The two engineers designed and built the HAPP, which is comprised of a jet-stabilized aircraft resembling the iconic three-man Apollo re-entry vehicle: a balloon system designed to take the aircraft to its 30km apogee and all the peripheral equipment and electronics that made that project successful. Though not the first high-altitude photography project, the HAPP is the first to capture stabilized 360-degree video.

Even more amazing was the project’s focus on DIY: over 80% of the 22 months for development were dedicated to creating tools and methods rather than actually producing flight hardware. The result is a project that can be replicated by hobbyists using locally sourced parts.

The HAPP can drift as much as 100km during each mission, so it was important to keep track of the lander and provide flight data to air traffic control. The RockBLOCK 9603 was vital in sending telemetry and system sensor data from the Arduino-based flight control computer at an altitude of up to 22km on the maiden flight, mission HAPP-M1.

While the power supply was in a temperature-controlled enclosure, the U-Blox board and PCBs were exposed to the atmosphere for the duration of the mission, experiencing temperatures ranging from +42°C down to -45°C, and pressures from 1atm down to 0.05atm.

The project’s creators have done a great job in documenting the project build and sharing the valuable knowledge they’ve gained. Their videos, including the glorious 4K mission HAPP-M1, can be found here.