Physics & Electronics students launch near space vehicle
More than a dozen Centralia College physics and electronics students touched the heavens. The group did so through a project that sent a specialized weather balloon up to about 90,000 feet to capture photos and scientific information.
The team, under guidance from Centralia College faculty members, assembled the 4.7-pound payload of equipment, and travelled to eastern Washington near Vantage to launch and successfully retrieve the payload that nearly reached space.
Any altitude above 65,000 feet is considered to be “near space.”
A variety of sensors collected data on atmospheric pressure and temperature. Two Go-Pro cameras, often used by extreme athletes, took high resolution pictures every five seconds (see the front cover of the Fall 2013 Class Schedule).
Once the balloon reached a certain atmospheric pressure, it burst, a parachute deployed, and the vehicle floated safely to the ground for retrieval.
In more than an hour and 35 miles from the launch site, the vehicle landed in a potato field. The students then used a spot GPS system, which is often used by mountain climbers, to find it.
“Everything went better than expected,” Centralia College robotics instructor and project advisor David Peterson, said. “Not only do we have some very interesting data, we have incredible pictures showing the curvature of the Earth and dramatic overhead shots of the surface.”
“Although this has been accomplished by other schools and universities, we are laying the ground-work to expand future flights, and for similar projects involving younger students in the surrounding communities,” Peterson added.
The joint project created excitement and garnered campus-wide support among student clubs, faculty, and the college administration. The student body and various clubs raised thousands of dollars needed to purchase the necessary equipment, which will be used again for next year’s flight. “I’ve never seen such a wide range of students working together for a common goal,” Peterson said. “This project had the whole campus behind it.”
The students’ goals for next year are to work with long-range radio communications and to expand the atmospheric data collection. They hope to gather ultra violet light and ozone distribution information.
The students also hope to launch a balloon equipped with a remote controlled glider and cameras, and use their learned piloting skills to bring it back safely from the same altitude.
Peterson said that the college encourages students to take on projects that stretch their curiosity and desire for scientific inquiry. For more information contact David Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.