Update: Our “High Hopes” High Altitude Balloon Project

Travis Fields, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the scientist leading our high altitude balloon project visited our school today to talk to our 4th graders.  He explained some of the science that they work on. Things like they are required (yes required) in some classes to design high tech dune buggies, race cars and more (see photo) They are graded on their design, explanation on why it will work and then construction and testing.

Very few of our students have family members that have attended college, so this was a great opportunity for them to see the possibilities. Many were confused at first that you could actually take classes in this kind of thing … priceless!
Next Travis showed them a video clip they made exploding a balloon containing hydrogen gas … we had to watch it twice. They are filling our balloon with hydrogen because it is much cheaper than helium … helium has to be mined and the deposits are running out, so the price has skyrocketed.
He explained that the research they are doing with balloons is mainly about stabilizing the payloads during flight so that certain kinds of data and samples can be obtained without the constant movement that happens now. Balloon flight is very cheap … no, very, very cheap compared to rockets, so figuring out how to do this would be huge.
He also informed us that they have decided to use a 3,000 gram balloon instead of the 1200, so that means we were wrong when we claimed that the balloon would get at least 80,000 feet. Now it should make 100,000 feet+. They are trying out a new balloon release system during our flight that will … well … release the balloon after it bursts and the parachute deploys so that it isn’t hanging below the parachute flopping and banging into the payloads and causing havoc.

He showed how we will track the balloon online during it’s flight and explained that sometimes it takes 6 hours or more to find the balloon after it’s 2 hour flight – about 90 minutes up and 30 minutes down. He checked out our payload design and said it was basically sound … gave us a few tips on attaching a back-up line in case something happens to our rigging.

If you are interested we are still taking “High Hopes” comments to send up with the balloon … now even higher.
Learning is messy!
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2 Responses to Update: Our “High Hopes” High Altitude Balloon Project

  1. AllanahK says:

    It will be even messier still if it comes crashing down on someone’s head. How are they attempting to control where it lands- if indeed they can!

  2. Brian says:

    Hi Allanah – Great question. In fact their computer models are showing it coming down in the middle of Pyramid Lake … which would not be good. They’ve run the model 3 times and the balloon ends up there each time! So they are adjusting the amount of hydrogen in the balloon and putting on a larger than usual parachute to make it “drift” longer so it clears the lake. But to answer your question, Reno – Sparks is surrounded by open, high desert. The bigger problem is having it come down so far from a road that they have to hike in very far to get it.

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