Kaci Heins, science teacher at Northland Preparatory Academy, recently had all 100 of her 6th grade students work to design and build a payload for a high-altitude balloon. With help from Bruce Sidlinger, and many more (see complete list below), they successfully launched and retrieved the balloon on March 12, 2015.
The balloon reached 102,593 feet, with over 98% of the Earth's atmosphere beneath it!
The highlights for this launch were a suite of sensors to measure UV radiation, infrared, humidity, temperature inside and out of the payload, accelerometers and more. Kaci explained that the sensors were tested many times over and worked fine, until just before the launch when they didn't work. Luckily, they had backup sensors for temperature and humidity so the students are analyzing that data now.
The balloon went through clouds on the ascent and they later learned this was virga, rain that evaporates before it reaches the ground. They hope to address this in the future with some method of collecting water they can later analyze.
Kaci writes: "It was a good lesson for the students to learn that technology can fail...and sometimes at the worst times. Bruce is working on it and we are going to fly again to ensure we get this data. We will also be looking at the downward facing camera images to see how much snow coverage we had that day and to compare precipitation amounts from the previous years. We will continue doing this every year from now on to compare and contrast ground cover. We also sent up some Wisconsin Fast plant seeds on the payload to expose them to the radiation in the upper atmosphere. The students are going to start growing these this week and compare them to a ground truth for our plant unit. It is too bad we don't have radiation data from this flight, but our next flight in April should give us at least some numbers to see what they were exposed to."
Thank you to the many collaborators on this project:
Bruce Sidlinger at Sidlinger Computer Corporation
Arizona Near Space Research
Pat Bledsoe of the Air Force Association
Squadron 201 of the Civil Air Patrol
Coconino Amateur Radio Club
Barney Helmick and Air Traffic Control at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport
Mike Gabrick of the Federal Aviation Administration
NPA Administration and CEC for supporting the project
Captain Planet Foundation for the grant funding for this years launch/projects
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator