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On this page is everything you need to know to conduct an Astropod flight. Don’t just take your Astropod to a launch site and wing it - we recommend you read through each section thoroughly before attempting to launch. If you have any questions that aren’t answered in these pages,check out the FAQ section. If that doesn’t help, contact us and we’ll be happy to explain. First, a brief overview…

 

Six simple steps

Pick a launch site

Run some flight path predictions

Order your gas

Let us know your launch date

Set up your flight computer

Go and launch your Astropod!

 

Launch Sites

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Launch Site Locations


We have ten dedicated launch sites across the UK. Each of these has been pre-approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which means all you need to do is tell us your intended launch site and a contact phone number thee days in advance at launch@astropod.space.

Find your nearest launch site here.

Launching without a valid exemption and an active NOTAM is a criminal offense. An unregulated launch could pose serious risk to persons, property and even national security. If caught, you may be fined up to £10,000 and could face a prison sentence. Do not launch without informing us and do not launch from another site without permission.

If you’d like to launch from another site, you can apply for an exemption directly from the Civil Aviation Authority. Fill in this form and email it to arops@caa.co.uk. This process takes around 6-8 weeks. Once your exemption has been granted, you will need to ask the CAA to issue a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) 72 hours before you launch.

 
 

Flight Path Predictions

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When you launch your Astropod, you will want to know where it's going to land. You want your Astropod to touch down in somewhere accessible, but far enough away from built up areas that there's no risk of someone else picking up your payload. You also want to make sure it's not landing in the sea!

The flight path will vary from day to day, depending on weather conditions on the ground and in the stratosphere all the way up to the edge of space. You can make predictions up to 7 days in advance, but they become more and more reliable the closer you get to launch. On the day, the landing prediction is generally reliable to within 2 miles.

These predictions are normally accurate to within two miles, so you should check a two mile radius around your landing site for any potential hazards.

If the Astropod is landing very close to a built-up area, a large body of water or private land which is likely to be inaccessible, you might want to wait for another day. Roads, rivers and other small features probably won't present an issue.

You should start running predictions daily in the week before your flight window starts. On the day before your planned launch date, run a prediction every few hours.

Small unpredictable variations in stratospheric pressure can mean your speed and final altitude may vary slightly. Check what happens if the ascent or descent rate change by ±1 m/s, and also what happens if the burst altitude changes by ±1000m.

 

Gas

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To launch Astropod, you will need three cylinders of helium gas. This will provide the lift force required to take your Astropod to the edge of space.

You can buy gas in packs of three cylinders directly from our site - your Astropod kit includes a voucher with a code for 20% off the standard price.

The Astropod kit has been specially designed to work with the amount of gas in three cylinders. You must use all of the gas for your flight.

If you fail to completely empty each cylinder into the balloon, or if you add more weight to the Astropod, your Astropod is at risk of reaching neutral buoyancy before bursting and floating for thousands of miles, so make sure each cylinder goes into the balloon!

 

 Flight Computer

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The heart of the Astropod system is the flight computer. A simple smartphone system is used to run two applications, HVR and Where’s My Droid. Both apps are preinstalled.

Setup

When you power up the flight computer for the first time, use the flight computer to send a text message to your personal smartphone. Save the contact number for your Astropod in your phonebook.

Your Astropod comes pre-loaded with £10 credit and uses the Vodafone network to communicate.Under our deal with Vodafone you will pay for the first two location updates, then for the next 24 hours all updates are free of charge. However if you have any issues relating to credit, you can top up here.

HVR

HVR is a video recording app which records directly to the SD card without draining the battery by keeping the screen active. To set the flight computer recording, simply open the app and press the button, then lock the screen to prevent any accidental inputs. If you have any issues, check out the recommended settings.

Where’s My Droid

Meanwhile, Where’s My Droid (WMD) allows you to locate and recover your Astropod when it lands. You don’t need to do anything to activate it - simply send a text message to your flight computer contact number with the message “wmd gps”. WMD will reply with a series of texts, giving you latitude, longitude and altitude along with a Google Maps link and the postcode of the nearest road. If you have any issues, check out Where’s My Droid support.

If you open WMD, you will be asked to create an account to access Where’s My Droid Commander, which is an online tracking service. This isn’t required to use the app and we do not recommend using WMD Commander to track your Astropod as SMS-based tracking is substantially more reliable.

Lens

Your Astropod includes a lens in the bottom section of the kit box to capture a wider field of view during the flight. Take this out and screw it into the lens adapter which is installed in the protective case around your flight computer.

Troubleshooting

If you have any issues with either app, check out our FAQ section or contact us directly for assistance.

 

 Launching

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Preparation

The day before you head to your chosen launch site, fully charge your flight computer and confirm the flight path predictions are favourable. Test both apps and make surey ou have all the equipment.

For the launch day, you will need:

  • Your Astropod kit and contents

  • A pair of scissors

  • A smartphone to track your Astropod and run predictions

  • (Optional) a notebook, laptop or tablet to run predictions on a larger screen

  • A helpful assistant or two

The launch site

On the day, when you arrive at the site, begin by preparing the flight train. Take your two lengths of cord. Tie the end of one cord to the top of the parachute and the end of the other cord to the bottom of the parachute.

Now you’re ready to fill up the balloon. Attach the hose on the cylinder and put on the gloves. Remove the balloon from its packaging, unfurl the neck of the balloon and insert the end of the hose up to the top of the neck. Use a cable tie to secure the balloon to the hose, grip it tightly and open the cylinder.

When the first cylinder runs out, hold the neck of the balloon closed above the hose to prevent gas escaping and switch the hose to the next cylinder. Repeat with all three cylinders, holding the neck of the balloon closed in between to prevent the gas escaping.

Once all three cylinders are emptied into the balloon, carefully remove the hose from the neck, keeping a firm grip on the balloon at all times. Tighten the cable tie and trim the excess down. Take the cord tied to the top of the parachute and tie the other end to the neck of the balloon.

Fold the neck of the balloon up over the knot and secure in place with a second cable tie. This prevents the cord slipping out of place. Now hold on tight!

Turn on your flight computer, send a text to confirm that tracking services are working, then open HVR and set it recording.

Put the flight computer into the Astropod and seal it up with the rubber bands. Move the rings to the top of the Astropod. Take the cord tied to the bottom of the parachute and loop it through the rings. Tie it around to form a loop. Run a final prediction (just to make sure).

Now you’re ready to release the Astropod!

Recovery

Travel to the predicted landing site and start monitoring the position of your Astropod. Because the Astropod’s tracking system relies on connection to the 4G network, it will not update while your Astropod is in flight. This is entirely normal.

Start texting location requests to your Astropod after it has been in the air for ninety minutes. Don’t text it more than once every fifteen minutes - this may compromise the accuracy of location updates.

Once you get the same location twice, your Astropod has landed. You can use Google Maps to navigate directly to the landing site, or program the coordinates into a satnav or other navigation device.

Travel to the landing site and retrieve your Astropod. All that’s left to do is get home and review your amazing footage from the edge of space!