Physics students launch high altitude balloon

Professor Erick Agrimson inflating a weather balloon, while his students hold it steady. Photo by Ashley de los Reyes '15

 Rachel Newman '17, Emily Anderson '17 and Maggie Singerhouse '17 hold the balloon as it is being inflated by math and physics professor Erick Agrimson.

Photo by Ashley de los Reyes '15.

On the morning of Friday, August 15 four physics students, Kassie Surma ’15, Rachel Newman ’17, Maggie Singerhouse ’17, Emily Anderson ’17 and their professors, Erick Agrimson and Kaye Smith, ventured out to launch a high altitude balloon.

For Surma and Smith, involvement with ballooning came about as a component of their Summer Scholars research on technology in relation to data acquisition. “Our project for the summer was to work with different programming technology. One day I was working with temperature sensors to get them working with the Arduino [a basic programmer] and I got it to work…I’ve been on the team since.”

Newman got involved after Jolene Johnson Armstrong, assistant professor of physics, mentioned Agrimson’s work with high altitude balloons. Shortly after reaching out to him, Newman regularly began attending flights and is now working with Agrimson on research regarding stratospheric balloons as a Clare Booth Luce scholar.

Singerhouse and Anderson were drawn to the project when their friends invited them to come along on a flight.

Prior to the launch, the students completed a pre–flight checklist, which included making a prediction of the balloon’s landing. This required students to input the balloon’s take–off time and location into a software program that estimates the time and location of its landing.

Unable to launch within eighty miles of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport due to flight restrictions, the group headed to their launch site in St. Peter, Minn.

Upon arrival, the set–up went on without a hitch. Once lines, cables and wires were untangled, sensors were checked, batteries were installed and the camera was turned on, the boxes holding data–collecting technology were sealed. After inflating the balloon, the entire apparatus was assembled and at approximately 10:50 a.m., the balloon was officially in flight.

Using a GPS device, the balloon’s location was consistently monitored throughout the duration of the flight. Other variables such as altitude, latitude, longitude, temperature, pressure and radiation (counts per minute) were also tracked using various programming technologies, such as the Arduino used by Surma.

After reaching a height of nearly 96,000 feet and traveling nearly 80 miles, the balloon began its descent and landed near a cornfield shortly before 1 p.m.

“The flights themselves are actually the best part…we learn from it every time,” Singerhouse explains, on her favorite part of the overall flight experience.

For Kaye Smith, assistant professor of physics, math and engineering, the most exciting part of the day’s events was the balloon’s convenient landing next to the side of the road. “It couldn’t have gone much better, really. The flight was excellent.”

Erick Agrimson, assistant professor of physics agrees. “This couldn’t have been a better flight date. Launch location was beautiful. The landing was probably the second easiest I’ve ever come across.”

Related content

View a video of the launch

High Altitude Balloon Launch Flickr album

By Ashley de los Reyes '15