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