back to article Handsome young autopilot reports for spaceplane duty

The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team this morning welcomed aboard a handsome young autopilot for our Vulture 2 spaceplane - the hot-off-the-press 3D Robotics Pixhawk. 3DR kindly offered to donate a couple of Pixhawks to the cause, after ArduPilot fixed-wing lead developer Andrew Tridgell suggested we'd benefit …


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  1. Elmer Phud

    Sometimes (and very rarely) the Christmas you get is actualy one you deserve.

    This had better bloody work -- or fail spectacularly.

    Do you have a remote operated small container of lighter fuel and

    an igniter? If it's going a bit a bit meh at least it'll look good.

  2. Faye B

    Weighty matters

    With all those electronic gizmos installed the battery is going to have to be enormous. At this rate the rocket ship is going to nose dive straight into the ground after launch with all that weight in the front.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Weighty matters

      Actually, a few AAA Energiser Ultimate Lithiums is all it takes. Also, with the rocket motor loaded, it's not a front-heavy as it might appear.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Weighty matters

        Once the motor has fired it'll be a lot lighter at the back, no?

        1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

          Re: Re: Weighty matters

          Yes. The design chaps factored that in - trust me ;-)

      2. stu 4

        Re: Weighty matters

        You might wanna look at 'fag' batteries Lester.

        these newish small lipos are readily available now as they are used in the vapor fag things.

        tons of different sizes, but for example a 14500 is AA sized. It can come with short circuit protection circuitry built in and has a capacity of around 800mah.

        And since it's at 3.7v nominal will typically power arduino stuff, etc without the need for a booster. However even if you still use a booster - you get a lot more capacity that ultimate lithiums.

        The other benefit is, being AA sized you can stick em in a regular AA battery holder - pair em up, etc.

      3. Benchops

        Re: Weighty matters

        Any mileage in attaching four or six bicycle dynamos with propellors on to the wings instead of batteries?


  3. PerlyKing Silver badge

    What's in a name?

    I hope that the autopilot will be called George :-)

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

      Re: What's in a name?


      Boffin-Improvised Goggled Gladiator, Lead aErialist Scout.

      Surely, someone can improve upon that.

      1. Benchops

        > Surely, someone can improve upon that.

        Yes, I would have thought so ;)

  4. Clive Mitchell

    Trust you got the 3dr OST module as well. Video no good with out screen altitude, speed etc.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      The vid's from a Picam, rather than an autopilot OST rig. Dave Akerman is working to inteconnect the Pi and the Pixhawk, but I don't currently know how we'll be handling the video.

      1. stu 4

        old school

        Well, one way to handle direct video link would be to leave that old school analogue.

        a 5.8ghz 600mw transmitter with a helical antenna facing directly down should be good for over 20 miles range straight down at least. And they only cost about 50 quid.

        20 quid receiver (use another helical here for even great range or a cloverleaf) and a screen and you can watch in real time.


        1. Silverburn

          Re: old school

          On 5.8ghz, you'll be lucky to get 3-4km even with clear LoS, even with a 13dbi at the rx end. Yes, you'd get 20mile range if you're 5km up due to lack of atmosphere, but while one end of the link is at sea level, your range is very small on 5.8.

          Better with a 900mhz or 1.2/1.3ghz rig, but the antenna shape will destroy all advances made by the clever airframe design.

          1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

            Re: Re: old school

            Indeed. We're limited to what we can mount in the aircraft.

  5. Crisp

    Today, low earth orbit

    Tomorrow, The Moon!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Today, low earth orbit

      "Today, low earth orbit"

      Maybe should be: Some time in the next 5 years, Lohan launches?

  6. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    new space pilot

    Did the reg remember to ask him whose shirts he wears? Or does he wears capes instead?

  7. Roger Jenkins


    I have been following LOHAN since inception and what the project has told me is that it is extremely complex getting a craft to the hights required. It further strikes me that given the high degree of complexity and planning required for this project, how bloody nearly impossible it is to design and build a rocket system to deliver a capsule to ISS.

    I appreciate that LOHAN is restricted by resources availability and it's really great to see how having a limited budget forces those involved to come up with far sighted ideas. But, it just makes me even more amazed that Space-X etc. can do what they do.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Complexity

      Complexity isn't the issue, it's complexity on a budget. Any fool with a few billion to spare can get a complicated thing like a delivery capsule built, they just need to employ lots of smart people to build and test custom parts. Trying to do the same thing with off-the-shelf bits and a couple of amateurs is a whole other level of complexity.

      Personally I'm interested in seeing if a NavSparc board (a GPS receiver with programable IO like an Arduino and costing only $20) is going to change the economics of autopilots significantly.

  8. PJD

    Sheds and budgets

    Speaking of budgets, at some point I'd love to see a list of everything that went into designing and building LOHAN and what it would have cost if you'd bought it all off the shelf. You've slowly accumulated rather a lot of in-kind support from some very nice suppliers over the life of this project, which is great, but not duplicable by the average shed tinkerer..

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Sheds and budgets

      It's a fair point, but actually the biggest benefit in terms of budget has been the team members' voluntary labour. Without that, I dread to think how much the project would cost. More than we can afford, for sure.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge


    If I'd had kit like this when I was a spotty one 30 years ago flying model planes, maybe I'd be working for SpaceX now...

  10. Graham Marsden


    ... surely this autopilot isn't inflatable?

    No, and don't call me Shirley!

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