01 Jun 2016

Scope in Space

Ian Poole writes about a fascinating exercise undertaken by Rohde & Schwarz to prove the ruggedness of their new Scope Rider oscilloscope by sending it into space.

Normally we try to keep our articles free from advertorial content, but when we heard about the Scope In Space project that was undertaken by Rohde & Schwarz we could not help but be interested.

The Scope In Space project entailed launching one of their Scope Rider oscilloscopes into space on a very high altitude balloon unprotected from the elements, and then allowing it to return to ground on a parachute, whilst monitoring it all the time to see if it failed and still worked after the very rough landing.

Requirements for rugged operation

Although many oscilloscopes are used in the laboratory and may not need to be nearly as robust as some, there is an increasing requirement for field service equipment at a reasonable cost.

Electronics is now becoming increasingly embedded in all areas of everyday life. Everything from mobile phones and all the infrastructure needed to support them to electronic barriers, remote monitoring and control systems – in fact electronic systems are all around us.

Whilst reliability is normally very good, for initial commissioning of many of these systems, for regular maintenance as well as for repair increasingly complicated testing is required.

Nowadays the field service engineer needs far more than a test meter and to meet this need and as a result, many companies are launching new portable products.

But just how rugged and robust are they? I confess when I was looking to demonstrate robustness of a product I was concerned about even dropping it from a knee height onto carpet. In reality though, equipment needs to be much ore robust than this.

Scope In Space

Rohde & Schwarz wanted to prove the robustness of their new Scope Rider beyond doubt. So a team of engineers from R&S UK contacted a company called a company called SentIntoSpace who arrange and mastermind the balloon launches to send packages into near space – about 30km or more high.

Scope In Space before launch

R&S Scope Rider before Launch

They arranged a carrier or housing to take all the tracking equipment as well as protection for the balloon equipment and an almost unprotected area for the scope. It certainly would be open to the elements, water, rain, snow and the like.

Video was captured all the time, and position information was relayed to the tracking car.

Scope In Space launch

On the day of the launch the team drove to a local recreation field where the harness was attached to the balloon which was filled with helium so that it could lift the required payload.

The payload was then attached and the balloon lifted off. The tracking team were straight on to following the balloon and its path plotted. With wind speeds known and simulations accurate it was due to land in a sparsely populated area.

Scope being launched ready for its near space ride

Scope being launched

With the balloon rising in height towards near-space the temperature was falling and there was obviously the question whether it would survive the ordeal. Temperatures down to -60°C together with rain, wind and snow.

Finally when the balloon reached an altitude of 32km above the earth, and the blue of the horizon visible, the atmospheric pressure had fallen so much that the balloon had expanded to its limit (about ten metres in diameter) and it burst. At this altitude the Scope Rider really was a Scope In Space.

Scope In Space

R&S Scope Rider in space

After the balloon burst its adventure was not over. When these balloons burst they are so high that they don’t meet much, if any, air resistance and the parachutes would tangle and not work. As a result they enter a free fall phase and reach speeds of up to 55m/s. As its altitude reduced and the air density rose it slowed. Eventually the fall from space was steadied by a parachute, but even with a parachute the final landing would be very rough - a real test for any instrument.

Once the scope from space finally landed and it had to be located. With the tracking, this was relatively straightforward.

The scope and its assembly were found in a field in Lincolnshire in the UK - but would the scope work?

On a quick examination the scope was still monitoring and displaying data, none the worse for its trip into space. It truly had been a Scope In Space!

Scope in Space: Scope Rider

The oscilloscope that was sent into space was the R&S Scope Rider. The company describes it as the first handheld oscilloscope with the functionality and touch and feel of a state of the art lab oscilloscope.

R&S Scope Rider

R&S Scope Rider oscilloscope

It performs equally well in the lab and in the field. With an acquisition rate of 50,000 waveforms per second, a 10 bit A/D converter developed by Rohde & Schwarz it has a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz for the analogue input channels.

Scope Rider is based on a high performance oscilloscope featuring a precise digital trigger system, 33 automatic measurement functions, mask test and XY diagram mode. In addition, it integrates four further instrument functions: a logic analyser with eight additional digital channels, a protocol analyser with trigger and decoding capability, a data logger and a digital multimeter.

Scope Rider applications

Most oscilloscopes will not become a Scope in Space, but there are many interesting applications for which they can be used.

Steven Edwards, Director Sales Operations & Marketing at Rohde & Schwarz UK Ltd. said, ”Since launching Scope Rider, customers have come to us with no end of really different ways in which they are using the instrument, so we decided to start a thorough search for the most unusual or innovative applications. The instrument has been rigorously tested by Rohde & Schwarz. It is now in the hands of our customers and we are asking them to tell us “How would you use it?”.”

To discover more about the applications Rohde & Schwarz have launched a competition to find some of the most innovative applications for their scope.

Steven Edwards continued, “We believe the ruggedness, robustness and performance of Scope Rider will open it to a whole host of new applications. We came up with the space flight as an unusual use of our own and we’ve put it on video. The team at R&S now want to see as many innovative ideas as possible.”

As a first step, entrants just need to write a brief description of how they would use Scope Rider and post it online at http://www.2-minutes.com/competition.

A panel of Rohde & Schwarz judges will select the 10 most unusual or innovative entries and each will receive a runners-up prize of a GoPro Hero4 silver camera which is theirs to keep. They will also be provided with an R&S Scope Rider on loan and be invited to create their own 2-minute video demonstrating the idea. All videos will be released on the R&S Facebook page and other social media channels. Finally, one lucky winner will be selected based on a combination of social media reaction and the judges’ final opinion. The winner will be presented with the star prize of a Scope Rider.

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is the author of over 20 books.

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