On Tuesday, June 16th students from the City Colleges of Chicago participated in their first balloon launch.  This is supported by a grant from NASA and the Illinois Space Grant.  With this award we support students with scholarships and stipends as they design, build, and launch experiments to be conducted over 90,000 feet above the earth.

 

Weather-wise this was a perfect day.  It was nested between two days or torrential in northern Illinois.  Our flight predictions had us launching from Lexington, IL and landing just west of I-57.

 

Landing Prediction
Prediction of where the balloon will land, based on our weather and weight.

 

We launched from Lexington, IL which is just a little north of Bloomington.  The students were in high spirits as we drove down and started preparing for the launch.  A lot of work goes in to a flight, and a lot of it boils down to a couple hours of activity where we set up our radio and satellite trackers, troubleshoot our experiments, and secure all of the payloads to the balloon.  Once that is done, we are ready to start filling the balloon with helium.

 

balloon filling
The balloon is made of a natural rubber, and we do our best to keep the oils from our fingers off of it.

 

When it is full of gas, the balloon is pretty big, and it is doing its best to start rising.  When it is full and ready to go, Heather is pulling down on the balloon with about 15 pounds of force to keep it on the ground.

 

pre-launch
It takes about 15 pounds of force to keep this balloon on the ground with us.

 

With a balloon full of helium and favorable weather, we are ready for a launch.  We slowly start to release the balloon and start feeding the payload up along with it.  Each of our payloads is separated with about 6 feet of mason's line and attached with swivel clips (from a fishing store).

 

The balloon is ready to go to near space, and has enough lift to carry our payloads.
The balloon is ready to go to near space, and has enough lift to carry our payloads.

 

Within a few seconds the it is more than 100 feet in the air.  After a few minutes, we lose sight of it entirely.  If we did our math correctly, it will go above 90,000 in about 90 minutes, and land near I-57.

We had a Raspberry Pi camera taking pictures every 10 seconds, and we got some beautiful pictures on the way up.

 

frame437
A view from a couple miles above Lexington, IL.

 

 

 

Much higher above central Illinois.  Notice the blackness of space, the light blue of the atmosphere, and the slight curve of the earth.
Much higher above central Illinois. Notice the blackness of space, the light blue of the atmosphere, and the slight curve of the earth.

 

After the balloon is out of our hands, it is time to pack up, and hit the road.  We loaded all of our launch materials into the vans, and start off along the flight path.  After 90 minutes the balloon popped and we started driving around the area where we projected it to land.  One of our vans was close enough to see it land!  It was close to the edge of a field, and we were able to retrieve it.

 

The balloon landed about one mile into a soy field in Piper City.
The balloon landed about one mile into a soy field in Piper City.

 

The flight was a success on a number of levels.  We got more than 2000 pictures, temperature data, pressure data, and some speed of sound data (not to mention the balloon itself).  Our next launch will be in early July and we will have more to share on our experiments.