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KAMS Students Soaring to New Heights - Literally by Eric Menendez, English 448 Writing Intern

March 1, 2017

Mackinzie Foster is one of several KAMS students who participate in the High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project. During her first visit to campus, Dr. Roger Schieferecke, director of KAMS, invited Foster and her father to join a balloon launch with him, a group of students, and Dr. Paul Adams. "After experiencing the launch process and being able to track the balloon as it traveled, I knew that HAB was something I wanted to be a part of when I joined the KAMS program that fall," says Foster.

Foster's favorite part of the HAB is the recovery after the launch, because of how they are leaving the landing scene with a payload box that has been to the edge of space. One time, in fact, when the weather conditions allowed them to see the balloon burst around a 90,000-ft. altitude and land.

Another favorite moment of Foster's is a specific time when they were successfully able to use the burndown system that was developed by another student. During the last launch in May, the group completed a tethered launch. There were two lines coming from the balloon, one from the payload burnout system, and one from the weight. After the balloon reached the desired height, the burnout system burned the line between the balloon and the payload, keeping the balloon from rising farther.

Foster assures that they typically don't have problems getting the balloons off the ground, but she also notes that there have been a couple different launches where there was minimal trouble. One launch, she remembers, used older balloons. The group of students found out that as balloons age, the latex weakens and breaks down, causing the balloons to fail ascending. Fortunately, Foster's group managed to have a backup balloon and enough helium for a second one. Foster also remembers a difficult launch when the wind gusts were above 15 mph, making it difficult to hold the balloon during the filling and tie-in processes. "We were able to get the balloon up and then changed our launch protocol to lower ground wind speeds," says Foster.

But how are the students able to retrieve the balloons after launch? The balloons have two or three tracking systems that receive feedback while in the air, particularly from the HABHUB tracker. The HABHUB tracker is able to predict where the balloon is going to land, thanks to an APRS radio attached to the balloon, which transits data. The group then flies one or two SPOT tracking devices to find the location data after landing because of the APRS's poorer frequency at lower altitude. The second SPOT is only flown as a precaution in case the first one fails. The group also runs flight path and landing site predictions before launch on the HABHUB predictor website, and they delay launches to prevent the balloon from landing near water, airports, or highly populated areas. In case the payload stack is separated or missing a piece of equipment, the boxes are labeled with the group contact information and can be returned. "One of the previous groups had a payload box mailed back to them," says Foster.

Foster is thankful for her time in the KAMS program, citing the access to unique opportunities and the sense of family as her favorite elements. Additionally, she enjoys math research with Dr. Keith Dreiling and spending time spent at the Destination Imagination competition. As advice for future students, Foster notes how difficult the program is, but the knowledge gained and opportunities are worth the struggle-as well as the bond the KAMS students have. "These two years may not be easy, but in the end it will pay off," says Foster.

 

 

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