CU Student Experiments To Ride Balloon 17 Miles Above Colorado Plains

Published: April 11, 2002

Six tiny University of Colorado at Boulder experiments will be lofted by a large helium balloon from Windsor, Colo., to a height of about 17 miles before drifting back to Earth on the eastern plains via parachute on Saturday, April 20.

The experiments were designed and built by undergraduates affiliated with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium based in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. The high-altitude balloon will be launched by the Colorado-based "Edge of Space Sciences" group, or EOSS, a nonprofit organization that has been flying balloon payloads for Colorado students since the early 1990s.

Each of the six CU-Boulder experiments is enclosed in a cube approximately four inches on a side and one pound in weight. They will be tethered beneath the balloon, which is expected to rise as high as 100,000 feet in about 90 minutes. The eight-foot-diameter balloon will expand to roughly 30 feet in diameter as it rises to roughly 17 miles, then burst and release the payloads via a parachute.

The 31 students involved in the project, primarily freshmen and sophomores from various disciplines across campus, developed the experiments this semester in a class titled "Gateway to Space." The class is taught by Chris Koehler, deputy director and research coordinator for the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

EOSS volunteers will track the balloon with Global Positioning Satellite equipment following its scheduled 9 a.m. launch. The payloads are expected to drift eastward for roughly 100 miles with prevailing winds and then will be retrieved by a team of EOSS chasers.

"This is a great experience for the students," Koehler said. "They take their idea, build it, test it and fly in one semester."

The launch site is about one mile east of exit 262 on Interstate 25 just west of Windsor. EOSS participants also will be flying a special video camera that transmits live television back to a ground station at the Windsor launch site.

Created with NASA funding in 1989, the Colorado Space Grant Consortium was designed to give students - primarily undergraduates - experience in designing, building and flying space instruments. Of the 50 space grant consortiums in every state, Colorado's has been the most active, designing, building and flying three sounding rocket payloads and three space shuttle payloads in the past decade.

The consortium consists of students from CU-Boulder as well as 15 other colleges and institutions in the state. The consortium is headquartered at CU-Boulder and directed by Elaine Hansen.