weather balloon

How to Launch a Weather Balloon: Ultimate STEM Challenge

How to Launch a Weather Balloon: Ultimate STEM Challenge

Take your students on an unforgettable journey to the stratosphere! What can be more exciting than launching a balloon to the edge of space and seeing footage of the Earth from above? A weather balloon project (also known as High Altitude Balloon or HAB) involves designing a payload and using a helium balloon to send an experiment up to 100,000 feet into the stratosphere! 

Based on three years of successful weather balloon experience with over 300 middle school students, we created a full guide that helps students design a payload, select an experiment, launch, and recover the balloon from a 100,000-foot journey to the edge of space!

Balloon Launch Conclusion!

Balloon Launch Conclusion!

I know you have been waiting on pins and needles on the update from the last balloon launch failure! The students were very disappointed in the lost data, but they learned a valuable lesson of engineering. Failure is an integral part of all engineering, and it provides an opportunity to learn and try again! 

Recovery Drama

Recovery Drama

After a successful launch, the balloon team was on fire! We had just successfully launched a balloon into the stratosphere, and everyone was jumping from excitement. But very quickly our enthusiasm turned to dread as we had yet to receive a GPS signal. We went from the high of releasing the balloon to a state of depression as we anxiously refreshed the webpage, hoping the GPS would come through. Without a signal, all hope was lost for recovering the balloon.

Launch Day!!

Launch Day!!

At 8:30 AM, after delicious breakfast tacos, the students and the high school film crew, drove to the launch site. We had a welcome party waiting at the park including teachers, school staff, media, and a local celebrity! Bill Taylor, weatherman of KENS5, brought his daughter to witness the launch and cheer us on. He even documented the event on his Facebook page, which garnered almost 20,000 views!

Mission Control

Mission Control

As we continued in our adventure into HAB (High Altitude Ballooning), our main challenge was channeling 50 eager middle school students into productive work! We decided to tackle this by splitting students into 4 teams based on the main tasking involved. Each team was lead by a Director and Project Manager. Below is a description of each team.

Getting Started with High Altitude Ballooning

Getting Started with High Altitude Ballooning

The best approach to this project, especially for beginners, is to purchase a kit from several companies that are dedicated to weather ballooning. These companies provide you with most of the supplies required along with instructions on building, launch, and recovery. Two companies to check out are: High Altitude Science and Stratostar.

What happens to bacon at 100,000 feet?

What happens to bacon at 100,000 feet?

To begin our journey of launching a weather balloon, I started with a quick YouTube search of “weather balloon launch” leading to over 17,000 results. I was amazed at the incredible footage and especially by what people sent to the stratosphere: paint balls, marshmallows, action figures, bacon, crickets, beer, and even a hamburger! You can check out the footage of the “10 Weird Things Humans Have Sent to the Stratosphere” here.

Weather Balloon Launch - An Introduction

Weather Balloon Launch - An Introduction

What can be more exciting than launching a balloon into near-space and seeing footage of the Earth from above? In a series of posts, I will chronicle the adventures of 2 science teachers, 1 aerospace engineer (that's me!), and 50 middle school students in San Antonio attempting to launch a balloon and payload over 100,000 ft!  As a first time adventure for all involved, this has been an exciting, engaging, and frustrating experience managing the logistics of launching along with the attention span of middle-schoolers! Above all, it has been a worth-while journey for students to experience a real-world engineering project with all the design challenges and failures along the way. Read on for our adventure to the edge of space.