Milesight LoRaWAN® Gateway Energizes Weather Balloon Flying in Africa
Weather monitoring plays a significant role in the daily lives of people, especially in economic, civil protection, environmental, farming, and transportation activities. Ever wonder where did the observations come from? Surface data comes from weather stations over land or in buoys over the ocean, and the most important source of upper air observations comes from weather balloons. People use a radiosonde, hanging on a string underneath the balloon, to measure atmospheric data for making an accurate weather forecast. The radiosonde carries sensors to collect observation including the gathering of air pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These days many high altitude balloons use LoRa technology because of its low-cost, low-power, and long-range characteristics, offering extra features such as uplinks that are difficult to attain. In this pilot project, Milesight LoRaWAN® gateways provide a transmission network to receive crucial climate data from the balloon.
Upper-air observation is one of the meteorological observations implemented throughout the world. It uses traditional instruments like radiosonde and weather balloons to measure the meteorology from the ground to the above of the lower troposphere for understanding the air state.
Most of the world’s weather phenomena occur at an altitude of 6 to 11 kilometers from the earth’s surface. However, the transmission of the atmospheric data faces challenges.
- Long-distance data transmission
Because the balloon worked at a high altitude, data was difficult to transmit in the receiver ground system, thus instruments being used for cellular signal reception or the Wi-Fi LAN of the university to transmit data.
- Lower power efficiency
Due to the frequent usage of weather balloons, one to two times a day to get a daily temperature cycle, the transmitter in the radiosonde must have good modulation and a high gain antenna as well as support low power consumption.
With regards to weight, cost, distance, and power, many types of researches have been done by our customers. Finally, the radiosonde with LoRaWAN® transceiver has been made and the LoRa transmission system has been built up for weather balloons.
Kanda Group is developing radiosonde technology with students in West Africa for weather and atmospheric data collection. They are customizing PCB boards and battery solutions by themselves to reduce the weight of the sensors as well as the balloon and enclose them in a 3D-printed container printed locally by the students.
The solution is composed of the below products:
- MCCI: Catena 4610 with preinstalled BME280 sensor (temperature, pressure & humidity)
- ESP32 microcontroller with Wi-Fi
- LilyGo TTGO LoRa 32 module with an antenna to track the GPS of a balloon
- TTN network server platform
- Milesight LoRaWAN® Gateways UG67 & UG87
Kanda Radiosonde Weather Balloons Project
Kanda Weather Group has completed two prototype launches in the United States and Nigeria since January 2020, each of them reaching over 32,000 feet with a flight time of over 1.5 hours, while the balloon traveled an incredible 20 kilometers from the starting location.
This project attempted to integrate the advanced LoRa technology in this modern era. Environmental tests and actual balloon flight tests are conducted to determine the performance of the transmission of data.
Actual flight test in Dallas, TX, US; Flight test in Academic City University, Ghana
The system consists of a weather balloon and a ground station. The weather balloon consists of the payload and the balloon itself. The Milesight LoRaWAN® gateways are working as the ground station. Six units of outdoor version gateways Milesight UG87 and UG67 operating in US915 or EU868 frequency are installed in the US, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.
The atmospheric data is to be transmitted, received, and saved in secure ways. To collect the upper air data, our customer transmits the temperature, pressure, humidity, and GPS coordinates of the balloon to a LoRaWAN® gateway located on the ground. The gateway forwards the network packet to The Things Network in Europe, where it is decoded. From there data is sent to the customer’s server over MQTT protocol, where they control the flow of messages in Node-RED and finally place the data on a public blockchain. The blockchain houses the weather data publicly and sends digital currency $15 rewards to the balloon launcher’s account.
It really makes good use of a minor app connected to TTN and Telos blockchain to store the weather data. The data is used to generate a 12-hour rain forecast to protect against flash flooding of areas with vulnerable children and to remotely forecast weather and climate to help support farmers in West Africa. The revenue of this activity is gotten from SMS subscriptions by farmers and people who need weather focus without internet service.
For the sake of resources and environmental safety, a twelve-inch parachute is attached for safe landing without causing accidents in areas where the hydrogen or helium balloon lands.
Figure: introducing UG67 presented with the radiosonde payload technology to the Vice President of the government of Nigeria at a KAD ICT conference.
Sample data consists of air temperature in degree Celsius (°C), the relative humidity in percent (%), and air pressure in hectopascal (hPa). These atmospheric data will be input in the program of the BME280 sensor. Together with the GPS coordinates and altitude from the TTGO LoRa 32 module are also processed by the Catena4610 MCU simultaneously with the sample data. The language to be used by the Java language, and the program is based on Arduino libraries.
The device firmware can be uploaded to the MCCI and TTGO hardware boards via the Arduino App, and they are written under the open-source MIT and GPL licenses respectively. Firmware, uploaded by either the Kanda team or the students, is designed for IoT devices with TTN LoRaWAN® keys. Once the balloons are filled up with hydrogen or helium, students turn on the devices, and then a confirmed uplink is sent to verify that the Milesight LoRaWAN® gateway is working in scope and connecting with TTN.
The students then connect to the ESP32-based IoT devices over Wi-Fi. They input their blockchain “miner” ID to a simple HTTP page to authenticate with our server. Once authenticated, they attach the device to the balloon with a 3D-printed clip, which allows the device to transmit temperature, humidity, air pressure, and GPS coordinates over LoRa technology to the gateway.
The purpose of this project is to build a cost-effective and reliable upper-air observation system to meet the needs of the country’s meteorological organization. Overall, these experiments replace the traditional monitoring methodology with a more advanced mechanism which is the Long Range Low Power mechanism to bring out the efficiency and reliability in the air observation for balloons.
Based on the results of the tests, devices successfully transmit data up to approximately 8 to 10 kilometers of altitude as a transmitter of the payload. Moreover, this solution has less than half of the cost compared with commercial radiosondes.
The atmospheric measurements can improve weather forecasts in West Africa and significantly improve the livelihood of farmers and commercial fisheries in the area.Why Milesight
- Competitive price of the Milesight gateways;
- The large antennas with high gain make data receiving easily;
- Reliable performance even at the areas with an altitude of 8 to 10 kilometers;
- The embedded network server enables the gateway to forward data to its internal LoRaWAN® stack or other LoRaWAN® network servers. The customer plans to move off the standalone TTN service eventually for reducing the expenses of the total solution.
“I have been very pleased with Milesight products,” said Project Owner and Implementer Nicolas Lopez. “We understand that our weather balloons are a niche use-case for LoRaWAN® technology, but are so I am very pleased with the results and ability to scale the project from the software and hardware perspectives.”
Kanda Weather Group LLC
KandaWeather is a project that collects real-time climate and weather data for local, regional, and national level planning. Their mission is to build an entirely community-owned balloon network, empowering African university students to become local climate change leaders.
To get detailed firmware and hardware files, you are encouraged to write us.