Balloon Satellite Launch: Up, Up and Away

By Capt. Lisa Beum Army Cyber Institute

April 11th, 2019 | News, News and Features
 The West Point Astronomy and Amateur Radio Clubs joined forces for their annual balloon satellite launch, April 6. Courtesy Photos
 The payload reached an altitude of 103,549.2126 feet prior to the balloon bursting. Within the Styrofoam box were several instruments and gadgets used to collect data and help with research.

The West Point Astronomy and Amateur Radio clubs joined forces for their annual balloon satellite launch, April 6. Three faculty members, Lt. Col. Diana Loucks and Dr. Paula Fekete, Officers-in-Charge of the Astronomy club, and Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton, officer-in-charge for the HAM Radio club, took 13 cadets from across the academic spectrum as well as other HAM operators within the community for an adventure.
“Last year, we had a great mission as we reached the highest altitude, but so many things and instruments didn’t work,” Loucks explained. “This year, the cadets took last year’s AAR to heart and implemented 90 percent of what they said they would do, and it worked. The cadets came up with a lot of the lessons learned on their own: a self-perpetuating machine.”
The official launch time was 13:59:00 EDT from Salt Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, and the last official transmission prior to landing was at 17:27:30 EDT on Limeridge Road, Poughquag, NY, for a total flight time of three hours and 28.5 minutes.
The payload reached an altitude of 103,549.2126 feet prior to the balloon bursting. Within the Styrofoam box were several instruments and gadgets used to collect data and help with research. Among the items were a Geiger-counter, a WiFi detector, weather sensors, imagery devices including the first ever Pi-cam, and perhaps, most interesting item of all, yeast.
Hamilton, who is also an OIC for the Cadet Brewing Club, added yeast to the payload to see how atmospheric effects may affect yeast for brewing beer.
“This balloon launch was the 10th one and the most successful launch on all accounts. All the data collection worked, and the recovery was fast,” Hamilton said. “It was also the first time we visually saw the payload prior to it landing.”
Class of 2021 Cadet Andrew Constable developed a code that attempted to predict where it would land based on several variables. Using the simulated predictions and an information package, including altitude, speed, etc., which were sent to the team every two minutes from the satellite itself, the chase team got very close to being at touch down.
“This last weekend has been one of my favorite weekends of my cadet career,” said Class of 2021 Cadet Emilie Hong said. “I helped set up the launch of the balloon satellite and had the privilege of riding in the ‘chase’ car. Our job in the chase car was to try to be there when it was descending… The chase itself was thrilling and I can’t wait until next year to help make the whole experience better.”