Tale of an ambitious space odyssey

As a child, I had always dreamt of going to space. Reading about the space race, the Apollo and Soyuz missions, the International Space Station and finally Rakesh Kumar going to space, I was always of dreaming of reaching space one day. The main way I kept myself dreaming about space was by watching movies (Apolllo 13, October Sky etc) and reading books (Rocket Boys).

And of course, life happens while you are dreaming. Then suddenly I graduated from college, got a job, got married and fast forward couple of decades and I was still looking back at my dream. Thankfully, there were still a couple of ways to achieve this dream.

One way was when the Raspberry pi came out, it was billed as a platform for kids to learn programing. But it was also a way for makers to see what they can do with it. While I was reading about interesting things to do with my Raspberry Pi, I came across Dave Akerman and his exploits in high altitude balloons which reach space and have Raspberry Pi as the onboard computer. As I read more about this project, I realized that this was my space dream and so much more. Imagine building your own transmitter and receiver, your own on board computer and launch vehicle? I wanted to do it immediately! But it took me a while (almost 18 months) working on this as my main hobby.

Here is a quick post on how I did it. I hope to augment this post with the details in the days to follow. In this post, I will cover what the payload consisted of and some pictures from space.


The heart was a Raspberry A+. Chose A+ since it uses power sparingly. It was running the Raspbian distro but I removed all the add-ons which come pre-installed but not needed for my project. Most of the scripts were built with Python.


Temperature Sensor DS18B20

Pressure Sensor BMP085

Accelerometer (BerryIMU was one nice package that had all of the above + gyroscope)


Raspberry Pi camera: to capture still images every 30 seconds (though I used the V1 of the camera).

Xiaomi Yi: to record video of the entire flight. This had issues which I will cover in a later post.


Two Battery Packs of 2300 mAH (chosen since they did not come with an on/off switch). I needed a battery pack which did not have a power switch since the Raspberry pi and the peripherals needed to be powered constantly during the flight even if they rebooted. This was a good choice since the process did get rebooted at least twice due to couple of issues.

GPS: uBlox Max 8Q

Transmitter: NTX2


Python scripts measured and logged the following parameters: Temperature, Pressure, 3 dimensional acceleration from the gyroscope and also take pictures using the Raspberry pi camera module.

Python scripts also transmitted the location on 434.6 MHz frequency and talked to the GPS to get the location coordinates.


Made from extruded polystyrene. I followed the instructions from the UKHAS wiki. Here is how it looked like after we built it. It is sitting in our balcony for testing the transmission.


The guts of the payload looked like this:

Payload insides


Finally here is a slideshow of some of pictures from the Pi camera:

More posts to come on what went into building the payload, test and learnings etc.

This launch was not done entirely by me. I stood on the shoulders of the giants at UKHAS. They were immensely helpful with their Wiki and being available on the IRC channel. I was also helped immensely by Yannick, who did the first amateur launch in France and knew all about the regulations. His house was also the site of the launch! Without Yannick looking over my shoulders, I would not have succeeded.


Ban Science Books for Kids

No, No! I am not a book hater or a science hater. I just do not like a certain type of science books for kids. These are the books with glossy pictures which claim to explain science to kids. They have lots of pictures and talk about everything from space to robots and animal kingdom. These are typically aimed at kids in the age range 3-10.

Whenever I am in a book store, I am tempted to buy these books since they are so attractive. As a parent, you feel good buying them since it feels like you are getting something fun and interesting for your child. But after I started tinkering with the Raspberry Pi (and now Arduino) with my son, I have been feeling that science books are a waste of time. I did not realize why until this realization hit me. I decided to write up this post with what I learnt.

When one reads science books, it feels like someone is telling you how the world works and you have to take them at their words. How different is this from reading about history, news or philosophy? Yes, these books have flashy pictures and diagrams and so do the books on history! Essentially, by making the kids read them, we are giving them a message that we adults know best and they should understand the world with the books we give them.

I feel that science has to be experienced and cannot be “read” or “explained”. I have noticed that kids who read these books seem to know it “all” since they have read about science in “books”. Aren’t we killing the natural curiosity that kids are born with by giving them a book to “read” and “understand” science? Reading a science book is equivalent to someone leaking the ending of a thriller.

I feel that the best way to teach science to kids is to let them do experiments and create hypothesis about why something works the way it does. They will make mistakes in their hypothesis. I feel that they should be making mistakes. We parents aren’t doing well if they aren’t making mistakes! They can hone their hypothesis by performing more experiments to understand better. This way, they will feel motivated to test their hypothesis and own the conclusions they come to.

The other impact of just “reading” science books is felt much later in adulthood. Take a look at folks who take issue with darwin’s theory, climate change etc. It is no wonder that they feel that science is just another class of fiction!

This is why I have stopped buying science books which have glossy pictures with “explanations”. You should too! Don’t forget to post your thoughts in the comments if you disagree.