Far Horizons Flights 58 and 59
We pulled off two successful flights in the past few weeks. The first was a test run for our equipment ahead of the busy summer schedule in addition to introducing a load of Adler educators to the excitement and prospects of high altitude exploration. The second flight was for our Exploring the Edge of Space camp. 15 middle school aged campers assembled, launched, navigated the chase and retrieved their very own near space mission.
Now that the favorable summer jet stream has kicked in – where stratospheric winds take a dramatic westward turn – our flights take on the familiar “Z” pattern. This makes very high flights convenient due to the folded path. In fact, the higher we fly, the shorter the ground track. On the June 27 flight we used a 2000g balloon and reached an altitude of over 103,000 feet. And even though the balloon was over 19 miles above our heads at the time, we were able to spot it with the naked eye from the side of the road and even watched it burst. It appeared as a small white dot in a sea of pale blue. This wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the fact that as it rises through the thinning atmosphere and increasingly lower pressure, the helium expands stretching the balloon to the size of a small house.
The summer skies were awash with a complex mix of cloud formations. Check out our YouTube video to get a taste of the variety of cloud types visible from the stratosphere and also get a sense of the distances we can see from our near space platform.
The June 27 retrieval was textbook. We were on the chase and as the payload descended below 10,000 feet, we were close enough to spot the parachute on its way to the ground. We rounded the corner of the farm where the descending payload was last spotted and drove past a dairy farm. The landing was within 3 miles from the predicted path and it landed in a soybean field making recovery a snap. In retrospect, we really dodged a bullet. Looking at the satellite image of the landing location, we discovered the payload landed only a few hundred yards from… well… let’s call it a cow-made “lake”. Maybe we should invest in hazmat suits – just in case. You can never know which way the wind will blow. In this case we were just lucky it was, away.
New HAB Library from NASA Goddard
I stumbled upon a valuable new resource thanks to the folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Do yourself a favor and check out their Balloon Technology Collection. As a test, I was curious if they had any papers about controlled parachute descent systems for HABs. I searched, “parachute descent” and was blown away by the 241 results spanning decades of work and research. For anyone out there interested in developing their own HAB technologies, looking for information about the stratosphere, researching the range of experiments done with HAB missions – or anything else HAB related – you’ll be quite thankful for this resource of more than half a century of stratospheric exploration. Thanks Goddard!
Summer Project Team
For 8 weeks this summer we are hosting 4 undergraduate interns. They have two weeks and one launch under their belts now and are making great headway into two critical Far Horizons projects. We’ve talked for quite some time about developing a robust 2-way communication system and creating our own software to integrate predictive tracks and live flight data. Both projects are long overdue. Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Space Grant Consortium, we have an impressive team of students working hard on these projects. Dan Abramov from Northwestern University is working on the design and testing of a system that will attempt to transmit live video from our payload to be received on the ground. Jed Oyeyemi of UIC is designing a system to relay data to and from the balloon for live telemetry. Roxanne Vitorillo of Wright College is writing the software to give us a more accurate and user friendly flight interface. In addition, her program – destined to be an open source resource for any HAB group – should allow the real-time data from the 2-way COMM system to be displayed. Finally, David Leibowitz from Northwestern has taken a small break as his team’s solar car is involved in the 2013 American Solar Challenge. We’ll keep you up to date on the progress of their work.