This was the first High Altitude Balloon project ever undertaken by our university. It was sponsored by the Physics and Engineering Physics department and Student Government at Southeast Missouri State University. Even though it was not a complete success, it gave us valuable experience in team work, leadership and how to work with our instincts when the situation goes bad.
Our flight plan was as follows:
The project involved three main branches which were: Mechanical, Logistics and Software. The design included a Meteorological Helium Balloon at the very top to provide lift. It was attached to a parachute which will help slow down the descent velocity once the balloon bursts at the maximum altitude. As per the FAA regulations a radar reflector was included, which is especially designed to be detected by radio waves at long distances. At the very bottom we had our payload which consisted of our main working parts.
Mechanical: Involves construction of the payload and ensuring its safety.
Logistics: Following up with FAA and their regulations and plan the checklist and location of launch.
Software: Flight data collection and retrieval, along with GoPro videography and GPS data mapping.
It consisted of a central GPS receiver, 3 pin connection with the radio bug and an 8 pin connection for the temperature and pressure sensor. In addition to that we had a ‘SPOT Satellite GPS Tracker’ to send us GPS location of our payload below 10,000ft (only in upright position) and the Radio Bug will work with any height above that. In addition to this, we had a GoPro Camera to get high quality videos at an expected height of 100,000ft.
It was designed to take Temperature, Pressure and GPS readings every 6 seconds and record them on an SD card. The radio bug sent the data over I-Gates once every minute and can be analyzed online via http://aprs.fi. This gave us a live update of our payload’s altitude, ground speed, surrounding temperature and pressure.
To ensure that our payload landed right side up, we inserted some dowel rods horizontally into the bottom layer of our payload box.
Before launching we applied Gorilla glue to all the joints and screws, and secured the payload with duct tape all around it.
The project started with high enthusiasm and two of us made sure that our hard work behind it received proper credit. Hours of planning with tackling technical and management difficulties were frustrating but a great learning experience at the same time. On the day of the launch we were well prepared, had properly filled the NOTAM and got over our checklists twice. Since it was an open event Dr. John Tansil showed up with his family along with Dr. David Probst and to our surprise Dr. Fisher also showed up in an unorthodox early Saturday morning event. We had a count down and let our payload of along with the winds. Our plan was to wait for it to land and once we had confirmed location, we can drive there to retrieve it. Unfortunately, we lost our radio signal at 4000ft during descent and GPS SPOT tracker had already stopped working. Therefore, we were not able to trace it to and exact location. Our best bet was for someone to contact us since had our information on the payload box. We have not received any calls yet, but luckily we were able to extract the data and plot the graphs as given above to get some results.