Saturday, April 10th, the Electrical Engineering students at UAHuntsville and Alabama A&M University launched payloads on high altitude balloons as part of their senior design projects.
A perfect day for balloon launches, five separate student experiments were launched on five separate balloons, a record for us. After achieving altitudes of approximately 85,000 feet, the payloads parachuted back to earth. In keeping with past successes, all of the payloads were recovered. The landing sights were clustered in and around the Stevenson, AL area, a couple perilously close to the Tennessee river.
Fortunately, four of the five payloads were easily recovered; they landed on the ground, one in a grave yard. The fifth was lodged in a tall tree. Over the years, a technique for projecting a line over the ensconced balloon train has been developed whereby the miscreant package is ignominiously hauled to the ground, a procedure that normally takes hours.
Four of the five experiments included various mechanisms to reduce or eliminate payload spinning, a consequence of air flowing by the payload shell that dangles from a single cord in the balloon train. This technique is being pursued with the goal of coordinating a balloon launch with atmospheric researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center. They regularly measure ozone precursor molecules in the atmosphere with a spectrometer at their ground station and have expressed interest in launching the instrument on a balloon. The latter platform is required to maintain a slow spin and a room temperature. A fifth payload used solar cells to power the on-board electronics. Data from these experiments is being processed by the students for their final presentations and reports.
In addition, two experimental tracking packages were carried along on one of the balloons, a 900 MHz tracking package for the UAHuntsville Space Hardware Club and a cell phone tracking package for a Maker Club.
UAHuntsville, since 2002, has launched and recovered 40 student payloads! AAMU, since 2009, has launched and recovered 3 student payloads.
As always, the program depends for its success upon the many volunteers that provide essential services in preparing the balloons for launch, in tracking the balloons and in recovering the payloads.
Invaluable assistance was provided by:
Bill Brown - our expert and advisor on all things ballooning Dr. Charles Corsetti - ECE lecturer and assistant chair Gary Dion - a volunteer in Huntsville Professor Stoney Massey - A&M senior design mentor Dr. Michael Newchurch's (Atmospheric Sciences) students Stephanie Long, Mike Penson, and Brian Huang inflated the balloons.
Dr. Don Robinson - a volunteer out of Cleveland, TN Shane Wilson - a volunteer out of Birmingham Jason Winningham, ECE graduate student and network administrator for the engineering building.
The BalloonSat projects are made possible by funding from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, Professor John Gregory, Director; Dr. Gerald Karr, UAHuntsville Campus Director; Dr. Trent Montgomery, Alabama A&M University Campus Director.
John Piccirillo, Ph.D.
ECE part-time instructor
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Alabama A&M University