Narnia Takes to the Air

One of the teams in my AOSS 584 class launched a balloon today.  Their team name is Narnia, while their balloon package is called the Wardrobe.  Overall it was a pretty successful day.  The balloon launch days all sound a bit the same (in 12 easy steps!):

1. Show up relatively early.  Wait around for everyone to motivate and get everything packed.

2. Drive somewhere.  Get some bad food.

3. Drive a bit more.  Park.  Unpack everything.  Prepare to talk to someone who may show up and ask what we are doing.  Most of the time, this is someone who is very curious about the project and sees us standing around with a balloon inflated to 8-10 feet across.

4. Wait while the students figure out what is wrong with their package.  Try to help. Something happens and either everything works or we decide to launch with one of the three redundant systems not working.

5. Fill the balloon. Let go. Adrenaline ensues.

6. Chase.  Disorientation.  Where are we going?  What’s going on?  Figure out what road we are on and what road we need to be on.  Why isn’t the GPS working?  Oh – you have to plug it in?  You know, issues.

7. If it is a light wind day, we stop a few times and try to spot it in the air. If not, we don’t.

8. Burst. For many launches, eagle-eye students have actually seen the balloon pop.  More adrenaline.

9. Try to predict where it is going to land.  Stay one step ahead of the balloon.  Become one with the wind and the balloon and the car (oh, how zen).  We typically have about 30 minutes from burst to landing.  Try hard not to land in prisons or lakes.  Since we have no control, this is hard to do.

10. Retrieve the balloon.  Try not to make farmers angry walking through their fields.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.

11. Drive home.  Either stop and get food on the way, or just haul back.  Adrenaline crash.  Student(s) sleep in the car.

12. Unload.  Look at pictures.

For any of you who have not been to a balloon launch, you should really come.  It is an amazing experience and a LOT of fun.  There are many different emotions that go through you.

Today was mostly as described above.  Here are a few specifics:

1. The team had a hard time getting their main comm system working.  The secondary system worked like a charm during almost all of the flight.  This died when a connector came loose.  I think that it was due to the manufacturer not soldering the connector down, which was assumed (no one’s fault, just didn’t check one of the 100,000 components….)

Evan, David, Becky and me looking into misbehaviors. Kiko napping!

2. Back up, back up system worked flawlessly. Recovered payload with no problems.

Launch!

3. Slower than ~normal~ ascent rate today.  It wasn’t too slow (1300 feet per minute), but slower than we normally have done.  It is actually better to ascend slower, so it was good.  (roughly 5-6 pound payload, 1.3 tanks of helium).

4. We drove from Homer to Adrian.  We got WAY ahead of the balloon, which we thought would land almost perfectly in Adrian, but it stalled and burst a bit early (about 90,000 feet).  That meant that we had to back track through Adrian and take to some dirt roads.  It was a very calm and calculated chase.  We actually stopped on the side of the road and watched to balloon descend for the last 1000-2000 feet, which we have never really done before.  It was very cool.  So, we beat it to the landing site by about 1 minute.  Nice.

5. There was a lot of condensation in the package. How to fight condensation? I am not sure.

6. Batteries fell out. Connectors disconnected.  Oops.  Everything was very cold.  The data logger that they used is the same one that I am using on my payload.  It stopped taking data just at peak altitude, so they lost a lot of data.  We think it was because of cold.

7. The team did not really test the entire system as a whole before launch.  Parts were tested, but the whole thing was not tested.  This led to unanticipated problems.  In many ways this is my fault, since I did not demand to see results of the full up test before the launched.  Live and learn.  Not really their fault either, since I did not make everything explicitly clear.

Overall, it was a successful day.  We recovered.  The team got some good camera shots.  We learned a bit. We had a good time.

Kiko, Becky, Ryan, Evan, Jackie, Ashwin and David

Original pictures of the entire day can be seen at my picasa page.  The team will post pictures and videos on their blog.

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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One Response to Narnia Takes to the Air

  1. apgibbons says:

    I would like to note that I, Austin Gibbons, was the first to witness a Prof. Ridley balloon pop, at a fine height of 105,000 feet. No one believed me except the computer.

    Hope all is well back in Ann Arbor.

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