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Going beyond the horizon with LoRa module RF1276

I´ve found RF1276 Transceiver to deliver the most outstanding performance in terms of signal range and quality. Upon my first flight I was able to reach 56km distance at -70dB signal level with small quarter wavelength antennas.

  • BOM (Bill of Materials):
1. ARDUINO PRO Mini
2. Ublox NEO-6M GPS module
3. BMP-085 barometric pressure sensor
4. SD Card adapter
5. 3Watt LED
6. 2x 18650 2600mAh batteries
7. DC-DC buck voltage converter
8. 2x RF1276 Tranceivers from appconwireless.com
  • HARDWARE CONNECTIVITY

 
- BMP085 sensor is connected to A4 (SDA) and A5 (SCL)
- SD Card is connected to 10(SS), 11(MISO), 12(MOSI), 13(SCK)
- GPS is connected to 6(TX), 7(RX) – software serial
- RF1276 is connected to TX->RX, RX->TX – hardware serial
- Battery voltage monitor is connected to A0 via voltage divider
- LED ON/OFF control is done through N-FET (IRLZ44N), which is connected to pin 9 via pull-down resistor.
- Pin 8 is connected to RST (for a remote microcontroller reset)
- Battery is connected to DC/DC buck converted, which is regulated for 5V output
 

 
  • ANTENNAS

I’ve found that dipole antenna on the Transmitting end and Inverted-Vee antenna on the receiving end gives the best results.

Transmit antenna (sky)

Receive antenna (ground)

  • RADIO configuration
To go for the maximum range, one has to understand the basic physics behind the radio communication. 
- Increasing the bandwidth reduces the sensitivity (and vice-versa)
- Increasing antenna gain reduces the transmit power required
- Line-of-sight is a must
 
Based on above rules, I’ve chosen the following parameters for RF1276 tool:
- SF: 2048
- BW: 125kHz
- TX Power: 7 (max.)
- UART speed: 9600bps
Above settings will only give 293bps, but will enable -135dB receive sensitivity. That means that you can transmit small packets (i.e. latitude or longitude) approx. every 2 seconds. If you also want to remotely control your electronics, you must leave i.e. 1 second for listening to the ground commands. So the data can be transmitted every 3 seconds. 
  • MODULE CONFIGURATION
The firmware requires both the GPS module and RF1276 to be configured for 9600bps UART. GPS configuration can be made with u-blox U-Center software.  
View->Messages->UBX->CFG->PRT->Baudrate->9600. Then,
Receiver->Action->Save configuration.
RF1276 configuration can be made with RF1276 Tool.
  • FIRMWARE
Firmware will:
- Monitor atmospheric pressure and temperature
- Monitor battery voltage
- Capture variety of GPS values
- Log all data to SD card
- Transmit all data
Firmware enables the following remote control options:
- reset the module
- turn the led ON/OFF
- update internal counter after receiving ping packet from ground
Both SD card reader and BMP pressure sensor is programmed for fault-tolerant operation. Failure of one of those will not crash the module.
  • FLIGHT SETUP
I’ve hooked up the payload to the balloon. The payload weight is slightly above 300g.  The balloon is heavier – approx. 1kg. I’ve filled it with 2 cubic meters of helium thus giving 700g of free-lift. I’ve inflated it to burst at 1.5km (85% of volume).

 
 
  • RESULTS
The balloon has reached 4.6km altitude and distance of 56km. It was traveling at 40kmph over a huge city and has landed somewhere in a swamp. It has only burst at 4.6 km, so its tensile strength was 3 times better than I’ve initially estimated.
I did not recover the payload since I couldn’t drive and focus on monitoring the real-time telemetry alone.
I’ve captured the last packets when the balloon was at approx. 1km altitude. This is when it went beyond the horizon. 
 

 
  • FLIGHT DATA
I’ve collected many more parameters, but those extra-ones are GPS mainly. Reconstructed flight path is provided in the image above, and here’s the internal sensor data.
 

 
  • CONCLUSIONS
RF1276 is definitely an outstanding transceiver. I haven’t tested any better than this-one. Flying above huge city (high interference condition) in heavy winds with unstable antenna position it was able to deliver -70dB signal level at 56km distance being 1km above ground, thus leaving -65dB link budget! (its configured sensitivity limit was -135dB). If only it didn’t went behind the horizon (or if I was higher – i.e. on some hill or telco tower) I could have captured it’s landing location. Or, alternatively, if balloon didn’t burst, I could have reached twice or trice the distance!

 

If anyone need the firmware of the project, please click here to mail us

*This article is writed by Flegmatoid Zoid, very appreciate for his help*