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Old Jul 19, 2014, 08:10 PM
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Need help on a UAV concept for NWS

Hello. I work with the National Weather Service (NWS), an organization that launches large hydrogen-filled balloons from 100 locations twice daily, with weather equipment that is generally used once, then lost....a fairly expensive program (perhaps $3-5 million annually).

I'm researching the feasibility of having small re-usable UAVs that could fly to an altitude of at least 35,000ft (would get same FAA permission we presently get in launching balloons that reach 60,000ft+). UAV would travel in a spiral path upward, then downward, and would return with equipment to be re-used. Would aim for something small, that could carry a 5lb payload. It would need to be able to handle turbulence and icing conditions that come with higher altitude.

Something like this that costs $1 million per UAV would not be feasible price-wise, but if its possible to accomplish at a cost of, say, $75,000-100,000 each, that might be do-able...high front-end cost, but cheaper in the end if they can last 8-10 years. Would also allow meteorologists to acquire much more information (than just twice per day) that would support improved forecasts and warnings.

Looking for guidance on how/where to research this. Is the above even possible?
I am not an expert on this subject. Any help would be sincerely appreciated. Thank you very much.
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Old Jul 19, 2014, 08:37 PM
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Artful Owl's Avatar
New Zealand, Canterbury, Christchurch
Joined Dec 2011
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you might be intrested in this
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Old Jul 20, 2014, 09:40 PM
Chris Anderson
San Francisco/Bay Area
Joined Mar 2007
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You might want to post that question at DIY Drones. That's the largest community focused on this and I'm sure the community members will have some good suggestions and even solutions.
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Old Jul 21, 2014, 01:31 AM
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Australia, VIC, Mitcham
Joined Dec 2011
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There's a number of projects out there that have tried to achieve return-to-launch for a balloon-launched aircraft. Larry Grater is one guy who has achieved more than most, but it's not such an easy task, even with the airframe balloon-launched. I've done a bunch of theoretical stuff with a view to doing a similar launch, but this has taken a back seat in my life for a while now.

To fly to altitude is going to be a tricky thing and taking a 5lb payload with it will make the aircraft quite large and potentially dangerous on return if things go wrong. You'll be looking at somewhere between 10 and 20lbs of flying weight if you're lucky, which is quite a big beast, even by normal aeromodelling standards.

If you are looking at just getting GPS-based wind estimates and barometric pressure/temperature measurements, this could be monitored with reasonable accuracy with some pretty light-weight hardware these days, so I think it might be possible to have something useful at 2-3lb total weight that could launch vertically to say 10000m and return.

The key would be something really fast with a significantly better than 1:1 thrust/weight that launches vertically. Possibly augmented with rocket motors at some altitude when propeller thrust becomes compromised.

It sounds like a pretty interesting project and I'd be keen to explore it with you on a number-crunching and potential prototyping basis if there's real backing from the NWS or elsewhere. PM me if you want to discuss further.
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Old Jul 21, 2014, 01:57 AM
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If you just need to pretty much go straight up and straight down, I would suggest something that can be controlled while it auto rotates on the way down like a helicopter.

Something like this air hogs toy. Obviously I don't meant this actual toy but something that uses a similar concept.
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Old Jul 21, 2014, 06:41 AM
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nice idea, but you will need a reasonable glide-ratio to be able to fly back up-wind to return to the launch site.
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Old Yesterday, 04:21 PM
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Asker, Oslo, Norway
Joined Feb 2009
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There is an existing system based on the paparazzi autopilot which might be of interest/serve as a place to start:
Quote:
The Small Unmanned Observer (SUMO) has been developed by the Paparazzi community together with the Geophysical Institute of the University of Bergen, Norway. It is designed to support research in the lower atmospheric boundary layer. It uses industry standard sensors for temperature, air pressure, humidity and wind speed/direction as well as more specialized sensors as infrared/visible light radiation, particle concentration or ionizing radiation (full list). It has been used in many measurement campaigns by various research institutions.
See: http://wiki.paparazziuav.org/wiki/SUMO
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