It was a year ago to the day that NASA-affiliated groups teamed up at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center to practice for the Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse by launching EOSS-227, a 6.6-pound, hydrogen-filled balloon from the camp’s North Training Area.
This year, a larger group of students and scientists affiliated with the NASA-sponsored program Colorado Space Grant Consortium gathered to launch two balloons loaded with a range of student-created payloads.
Larry Noble, launch director with the logistics provider Edge of Space Sciences, said his team had gained experience from the practice last year at Guernsey and for the 33 other launches leading up to Monday’s EOSS-260 and 261 for the Denver-based organization, made up primarily of amateur radio operators.
“We learned last year that the wind could be an issue here, so we brought five balloons and enough hydrogen to fill four,” he said prior to launch. “The wind is our biggest fear. We don’t want it leaning over and hitting the ground.”
Their fears of a burst materialized, as the first balloon did just that during inflation. The second and third tries, complete with volunteers surrounding them with upstretched arms, however, proved successful, and they were ready to take their payloads to near space, between 80,000 and 100,000 feet into the atmosphere, according to Noble.
The students also learned a few things last year at Guernsey.
“I showed my wife the video from last year and she got motion sickness from watching it,” said Community College of Aurora student Christopher Doyle, of his team’s efforts to mount cameras and video record from the balloon.
“We’ve made a lot of structural changes to stabilize our cameras,” said Doyle, whose team was among five chosen to conduct experiments from the balloons. “Our changes are very mechanical, while everyone else’s are so smart. It should work though.”
Stringing the experiments onto a tether line, that included a spectrometer to look at light signatures of elements, and an experiment to learn the effects of high altitude on vegetable seeds, was COSGC associate director Bernadette Garcia, who said she couldn’t wait to get back to Guernsey for this event.
“We could not be in a better location,” she said. “The people, the space, and of course—totality! I’m just in awe.”
She said of EOSS, “We’re fortunate to be working with a great launch team.”
George Lehmkuhl, a retired engineer and an amateur radio enthusiast who helps track and recover the EOSS balloons after they burst and parachute back to Earth, said the group has a 100 percent recovery rate, and a number of sophisticated ways to find them and retrieve the payloads.
“We use modeling at different altitudes to get an idea of where we think it will land,” he explained. “We have chase teams already deployed in those areas. We also use GPS and radio beacons.”