Launch a Balloon for Science

With any luck, it won't be quite so cold where you are at launch time. Photo by Lieutenant Mark Boland, NOAA Corps / Wikimedia Commons.

Have you got anything going on for April 18 - 21, 2014? If not, you might want to set aside that weekend for some quality balloon time.

The Global Space Balloon Challenge (GSBC) wants people from around the world to build and launch their own high altitude balloons. The goal is to launch balloons to the edge of space, recover them, and then share the photos and data that you collect.

A high altitude balloon, or HAB, is a large, helium-filled weather balloon attached to a box stuffed with things like cameras and sensors. When released, a HAB will climb anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000 feet (18 to 37km), before the balloon itself bursts, and the box parachutes to the ground.

Entering the competition is free, but you will need to fund your own project to participate. Depending on what you do, the cost to build a system is between $200 - $700 USD. There will be prizes for things like Best Photograph, Best Design, and Highest Altitude. So far, teams from the US, UK, Spain, Australia, and Japan have already signed up.

Intrigued? You can check out the very basic tutorial at the GSBC site here, or this one at the UK High Altitude Society. The DIY Space Exploration page has a FAQ and several blog posts about them, and ARHAB has some "how to" PowerPoint presentations. And of course, don't forget to check local regulations about launches, and to register your project back at the GSBC site.

Good luck and have fun!

UPDATE: Check out this link at the University of Michigan, which has additional details and interviews with eighth-graders too!

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Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a highly successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can reach her at chandraclarke [at] gmail dot com.