HCC students participate in Balloon Payload Project

(April 12, 2006) - Seven student-crafted payloads, one helium-filled rawinsonde balloon, one command module for tracking and a parachute for descent traveled 101 miles recently from Clear Spring to Port Deposit, MD, during a Balloon Payload Project (BPP) sponsored by the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. The project is a collaborative effort aimed at encouraging students to pursue careers in engineering, science, mathematics and technology. Students from Hagerstown Community College, Morgan State University, University of Maryland College Park, and Carver Center for Arts & Technology participated in the BPP. This was the sixth NS (near space) “mission” sponsored by the consortium.

At this year’s event, tracking systems reported a maximum altitude of 95,000 feet for the payloads. Burst was an hour and eighteen minutes from release and touchdown thirty-eight minutes later.

HCC team members included Tim Boyer and Samantha McCarty, both of Hancock, and Chris Noe of Hagerstown. Although HCC faculty has been involved with the project since its inception in 2003, this was the college’s first student-developed payload.

“I am very proud of my students. They were constrained by deadlines, but they worked hard, solved problems, functioned well as a team and displayed leadership,” related Lisa LaCivita, instructor of engineering technology and computer studies.

Payloads vary in size and shape. Most contain data loggers to record temperature and humidity as the payload travels through the Earth’s atmosphere. Batteries power circuitry that triggers a timer, set to fire the shutter of film-based cameras. Modifications for this mission included digital and video cameras.

Recovering the payloads is important in order to retrieve pictures and data. Payload components will be reused and the electronics in the command module are specialized and valuable to the project. Release and recovery are the most visible aspects of the BPP but they follow weeks of design, construction, and testing. The activity continues as film is developed, pictures scanned, and data downloaded, complied and analyzed. Students are now considering modifications for future payloads and planning for the next release scheduled for the end of April.