“Three… two… one… liftoff” was heard on a University of Hartford athletics field as a team of University of Hartford and University of Bridgeport students released an eight-foot tall helium-filled weather balloon on August 9. The launch was a practice run for a launch on Aug. 21 that will enable millions of people to see a once-in-a lifetime solar eclipse across the United States.
Two UHart students and three professors are part of the team, which is working with the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC). A total of 55 teams are participating in the eclipse live stream, capturing video along the path of totality, from the Pacific coast in Oregon to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina. The moon is expected to completely cover the sun for approximately two minutes.
The Connecticut team’s balloon will be based at Kenlake Resort in Hardin, KY, near the spot where the eclipse is expected to be in totality for the longest amount of time. They will launch approximately 90 minutes prior to the eclipse, as they anticipate the balloon will climb an average of 1,000 feet per minute to reach an altitude of close to 100,000 feet. The balloon will carry a 12-pound payload consisting of a video camera, still camera, and GPS tracking system. This is part of a nationwide, NASA-sponsored initiative to live-stream aerial video footage of the solar eclipse.
UHart mechanical engineering major Mark Markiewicz ’18 said, “We’re testing today in preparation for the real event by following exact launch day procedures to trouble-shoot and anticipate any problems that might occur during those two minutes of darkness during the total eclipse. We also have to time it so that once the eclipse has passed, we can retrieve the balloon, which will have burst while the payload parachutes back to earth.”
“Today’s objective is for the students to be the leaders in this dry run, so we’re essentially here as spectators. They’re in charge,” said Assistant Professor of Civil and Biomedical Engineering and Associate Director of CTSGC, Mary Arico.
The students took the lead, and the launch into the atmosphere was considered a smooth one.
Team member and UHart mechanical engineering major Stefan Keilich ‘18 said the idea that “hundreds of millions of people” will be watching the broadcast is thrilling and “makes the inherent pressure of the project worth it.”
The practice launch was a learning experience and revealed some needed adjustments. “We learned that we’ve got to practice with our tracking system again and again until we perfect it,” said Mark. The practice balloon traveled over southeastern Massachusetts at an altitude higher than planned and went farther than the anticipated retrieval site in eastern Connecticut.
Live viewing of the eclipse will be available on NASA’s website, http://nasa.gov on August 21 beginning at 12 noon EDT. Follow on social media using #Eclipse2017CT.
NASA CTSGC, with UHart as its lead institution, is an affiliate of a federal grant, internship, and scholarship program funded as part of NASA's Office of Education designed to broaden the participation of universities and individuals in aerospace science, engineering, and technology.