Wonderlab balloon idea

After the high altitude ballooning presentation it was agreed that many of us want to fly a balloon but it is always nice to have a purpose to the flight other than "just because". The idea has been brought up of doing a flight for the Wonderlab, having them build an experiment or two which we fly, track, and recover. There is the potential to generate some cool press for both the Wonderlab and the K9IU club, and leave the lab with plenty of cool pictures at the edge of space.

George has sent an email has been sent to a Wonderlab contact about the idea, and we're waiting to hear back. Other ideas include flying one for physics experiments if there was such a demand from that department.

In addition, I've sent an email off to colleagues in Oregon about the types of experiments they have flown for elementary-aged students. This should give us some ideas (plus there are plenty online). Unfortunately we will only have 6 pounds to play with (including balloon, tracking gear, etc.) and we will want redundant trackers on different frequencies, leaving little weight in the budget for many experiments.

So here are my random thoughts. Please comment, add your own thoughts and ideas.

The flight would have to be launched far from the wonderlab in an open field. Karst farm park was a good suggestion for a launch site.

We would want 2 chase teams: one starting at the launch and the other starting near the anticipated landing zone. Not many launch teams work this way, but I've had an experience where it would have helped. ;) Someone with extensive APRS experience is a must in each chase team. Have at least a driver and a radio/aprs operator. Chances are that the drivers will be traveling unfamiliar routes, they should be focusing on driving not talking and looking for where to go.

A third team (possibly a team of one) would be stationed at the lab with a terminal and a radio to watch the progress of the balloon, and listen to the radio chatter during the launch and chase. APRS experience would be helpful here as well to field questions from visitors. Make it a big event for the wonderlab.

There is of course a matter of cost here.. There are expendables like the balloon (1200g around $100), helium ($50 though I hear it is going up?? usually includes a security deposit on the tank, ~$150), and some cord. Everything that goes on the balloon should be considered expendable in case the balloon is lost, but gear like radios and cameras could be reused in future flights. If we wanted to go real cheap we could fly a pair of extra HT's we have amongst us with GPS and small tracker devices. The only problem with this method is that it would weigh a bit more than buying devices specifically for their low weight. This kind of decision can be made depending on funding. Until then, we can plan trackers based on what we have now in this thread.

Camera(s) would need to be purchased and modified accordingly too. Weight and cost would depend on the model, as does the ability to modify them. Digital would be real nice for the quality, but we could also add a light, cheap film camera with a timer circuit for redundancy. An idea that George had would be to fly a digital camera to take infrared pictures, which would be an easy experiment and could lead to some scientific discussions for the kids. Having 2 cameras timed together to take visible and IR pictures could be neat. This is also a chance to reach out to the IU robotics club and see if they have anyone with embedded systems experience who would like to help with circuits, flight computer, etc.

Speaking of reaching out.. One area we could use help with is the filling of the balloon itself. Does anyone have a contact in the welding business or with one of the local welding providers who might like to help out? This would help a lot!

There are a lot of other random thoughts in my head but I'll start with this for now.


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