Middle School Students Reach the Stratosphere!

No FBI report or stolen data this time! My Space Club students successfully launched and recovered a weather balloon from 80,000 feet! Read below for our adventure and tips to complete your own balloon launch. 

Preparing the weather balloon for launch!  

Preparing the weather balloon for launch!  

Last spring, I wrote about my experiences with launching a weather balloon with middle school students. The project was a dramatic adventure that included a rancher shooting down and stealing our balloon data and a sheriff filing a FBI report. You can read more about the story here. If you are interested in this project, check out our post on getting started

This year, it was luckily a mostly drama-free adventure! To enhance the project, we partnered with the Texas A&M High Altitude Balloon Club who provided technical expertise to the students. One of the club members also provided a ham radio license for an APRS radio to track the balloon in real-time! 

Reaching 80,000 feet! 

Reaching 80,000 feet! 

Student Teams

To manage student participation, I broke the 30 Space Club students into teams with specific goals. Each team was assigned a mentor to check on progress and provide guidance. 

  • Science Team: Capture flight data during launch and set-up science experiment. 
  • GPS Team: Determine how to retrieve balloon. 
  • Launch Logistics Team: Plan logistics for a successful launch and recovery. 
  • Payload Team: Design and build payload to house all equipment. 
  • Media Team: Set-up GoPro camera and keep a record of project activities. 

Recovery Incentive

One of the greatest challenges of an after school program is active participation. This balloon project takes focused learning and hands-on engagement for students to fully benefit from the project. I didn't want students to just launch a balloon without understanding the science and problem solving needed. So for an incentive, I limited the number of seats on the Recovery Team. To gain a coveted spot, they had to complete three challenges that ranged from determining the landing site of the balloon, drawing a free body diagram of forces, and other math and science problems related to the balloon. And the students really worked hard to get a spot! 

Payload Design

Instead of using the High Altitude Science payload like last year, I decided to have students design their own. Many launches include a styrofoam box payload, but we discovered the greatest challenge with this is keeping upright. This is important for the GPS, but we didn't have the time to build a gyroscope. Instead we added wooden poles to help balance and stabilize the payload. We still ended up upside down...

Weather Balloon Payload with science equipment, APRS Radio, GPS, and GoPro.

Weather Balloon Payload with science equipment, APRS Radio, GPS, and GoPro.

Payload recovery!

Payload recovery!

In the end, it was a great experience for the students! Check out our GoPro footage below and more pictures here