Although it didn’t make it to Nebraska or Kansas as predicted, and it fell short of an anticipated altitude of 100,000 feet, the BalloonSat mission launched by four Colorado community colleges at sunrise on Jan. 16 was impressive nonetheless.
Included on the launch were two Community College of Aurora student-built payloads, alongside experiments from Community College of Denver, Pueblo Community College, and Trinidad State Junior College. The high-altitude balloon traveled some 33 miles south, then east, and reached an approximate altitude of 77,847’ before bursting. FAA clearance had been obtained in advance of the launch.
Immediately following liftoff, numerous volunteers, primarily from the non-profit, Denver-based Edge of Space Sciences group, joined the students and their professors on a “track and chase” of the balloon so that mission payloads could be retrieved for analysis.
With the balloon ascending at some 1,300’ per minute, observers that morning noted that it wouldn’t be long before the latex structure, filled with helium and launched from Deer Trail, Colo., traveled high above the commercial jets seen overhead.
Following its burst, a parachute enabled the string of payloads to descend at a rate of 950’ per minute. The recovery site was to the east of County Rd. 190, an unpaved road near the Elbert/Lincoln county line, northwest of Limon.
Experiments among participants varied, and analysis now will be conducted on each one. CCA Team A launched a bacteria strain to determine its reaction under extreme climate conditions. Team B’s project carried a substance similar to what is found on the surface of Mars, along with an onboard Geiger counter to measure how well the contents were shielded against high-altitude radiation.
CCA was selected in 2009 as an affiliate institution of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, which is funded by NASA. The two CCA teams have been immersed in their projects since September. Following analysis, data from the launch will be presented by the students to scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The CCA students have worked under the direction of Victor Andersen, CCA faculty member in astronomy and physics and space grant affiliate director to the Consortium for the college.