Monday, October 12, 2015

University of Maryland flies high with 50th balloon launch

On Saturday, the University of Maryland (UMD) Maryland Space Grant Consortium Balloon Payload Team celebrated its 50th tracked high-altitude balloon launch. Since the program began in 2003, there have been 49 tracked balloon launches that took student-designed and built payloads to the edge of space.

The Maryland Space Grant Consortium Balloon Payload Program (BPP) provides easy access to "near-space" for students who cannot afford a launch vehicle.

Students use helium-filled weather balloons to lift small payloads--cargoes tethered below the balloon--to the edge of the atmosphere. The balloons reach up to 85,000-100,000 feet in altitude, and at that height, payloads experience space-like conditions in terms of pressure, temperature, and radiation environment.

Saturday's launch from the Claud E. Kitchens Outdoor School at Fairview in Clear Spring, Md., included six payloads engineered by University of Maryland and Capitol Technology University students. During the flight, the balloon reached an altitude of 94,000 feet and covered approximately 50 miles from the ascent location to the payload landing site.

The payloads performed experiments both on the way up and on the way down, and are designed to perform tasks such as collecting atmospheric data and visual imaging transmission to materials testing and telemetry and tracking.

Maryland is one of only a small number of universities nationwide to successfully launch and track so many balloons.

Developing the projects requires students to learn skills in a variety of different areas--such as electronic circuits, thermal design, structures, sensors and 3-D printing--as well as teamwork to pull off the final project.

50th Balloon Launch Payloads

Command Module
The Command Module (CMD) is the main tracking and telemetry system for the Balloon Payload Program. Redesigned into its 5th version for this launch, the module improves and enhances all three major payload subsystems: electronics, structure, and power.

Host Payload for B.A.D.A.S.S.
Host Payload is a testbed for the use of advanced materials and manufacturing processes in payload construction, provides high resolution video throughout the flight, and it is testing a new generation of electronics called Balloonduino. Host payload will be the first payload of the Balloon Attitude Determination and Stabilization System, slated to fly next semester and provide stabilization during the rigorous motion of balloon flight.

Bach's Box Weather Payload
Bach's Optic Box can sense temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, UV intensity and dust in the air. The box will measure ozone as it rises. The goal is to correlate changes in UV intensity and dust in the atmosphere as the balloon enters the stratosphere. The payload also experiments with a GoPro to take still images instead of video.

WhiteBox houses experimental technologies for the Balloon Payload Program. This marks its second flight, and includes 900 MHz radios tested for data transmission capabilities of images. One radio band will send periodic images during flight and the other will send XBee and telemetry data. Students review data received on the ground at tracking stations in the chase vans for further analysis.

SPECTREv.4 Solar Cell Module
The latest in the SPECTRE series, v.4 features a 3-D printed chassis with eight solar panels. The objective of this flight is to determine the in-flight recharge capabilities of these lightweight solar panels. Past flights studied the solar panels' voltage outputs with respect to altitude and yielded encouraging results. This version will begin testing the end-goal of SPECTRE: increasing battery life while reducing payload weight.

TrapSat from Capitol Tech University
This payload is a prototype of a CubeSat that uses a block of silica aerogel to capture microdebris in orbit. It is also testing an innovative hinged, Nichrome-activated lid that will protect the aerogel until the lid opens after reaching the desired altitude.

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