Camp Guernsey hosts eclipse balloon project

Sgt. 1st Class James Mcguire, State Public Affairs Office

Artillery rounds, hand grenades and C-130 cargo planes are a few of the things you might see flying at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center any given day, but now you can add high altitude balloons to the list.

EOSS-227, a 6.6-pound, hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from the North Training Area of the camp Aug. 21, exactly one year before a total eclipse of the sun – the first visible in the U.S. in 38 years – is set to happen. Camp Guernsey is in the prime viewing area for next year’s eclipse.

Students and scientists affiliated with the NASA-sponsored program, Colorado Space Grant Consortium, gathered to practice by launching a balloon and a payload like one that will hopefully capture images and video of the event from near-space next year, from the same location.

“With the eclipse coming up a year from now, NASA got pretty wound up about this being a great time to get kids going ‘gee whiz’ about science, technology, engineering and math,” said Nick Hanks, of the logistics provider Edge of Space Sciences and the ground station lead for the Guernsey launch.

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“We have student-built payloads this time, and we’ll practice again in May with payloads built by the University of Montana. Even if it’s cloudy here (on Aug. 21, 2017), once that balloon gets to 40-50,000 feet, we’ll be able to see the eclipse in real time as they shoot video and snap still pictures. We should get to 80,000 to 100,000 feet.”

He said although the mission wasn’t on the radar until earlier this year for the Denver-based organization, “Camp Guernsey is the perfect, perfect place for us. We couldn’t have done better if we tried.

“We know a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who had done an experiment up here about five to 10 years ago, and he said the National Guard was very supportive of NOAA and NASA,” Hanks said. “We were looking at the maps of the eclipse and trying to figure out where to do this, and saying, ‘We’re not going to see anything from Denver.’ And he says, ‘You know what, Camp Guernsey’s up there.’ So we made the call and set up a meeting and the rest is history.”

Camp Guernsey airspace manager, Bob Kolbo said this was the first time that he recalls a balloon being launched from the facility, primarily used for military training.

“We’ve had a college group come up and fire rockets that got to about 60,000 feet,” Kolbo said. “We just have to de-conflict the airspace. With this going maybe 100,000 feet, it’ll get out of our airspace pretty quickly.”

Chris Koehler of CSGC, a state-wide organization, funded by NASA involving 17 colleges, universities and institutions around Colorado, brought the students to Guernsey with the payload they designed and built. The consortium is also funding the eclipse flight. He too, called Guernsey the perfect spot.

“It’s right in the path of totality,” he explained. “The eclipse runs right through this location. It’s nice open space, and great to do a balloon launch and great for the number of people who will want to come see an eclipse. Our goal is to be able to use this footage to show the public what it looks like.”

Koehler said programs like the one funding the consortium’s project are available in every state, and most states are taking part in the eclipse project. He said Wyoming’s group was conducting its work in the Tetons, and that Arizona’s group would be near Glendo State Park, in Wyoming.

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