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High Altitude Balloons

High-Altitude and weather balloons are essentially the same thing. The key difference is the equipment that is lifted as the balloon is released into the stratosphere. Balloons that lift meteorological equipment are termed weather balloons. 

High-Altitude balloons are uncrewed balloons filled with helium or hydrogen released into the air to conduct research and help educate people about meteorology, the atmosphere, climate research, near-space imagery, and Amature Radio. 

How do they work? - High-Altitude balloons filled with helium will float because helium has less density than air and will rise to the surface of the earth's atmosphere. Attaching a line to the balloon, called the flight train, with a payload suspended at the other end, the balloon will lift the payload to the edge of space. As the balloon climbs higher, the pressure in the atmosphere decreases. The reduced pressure causes the balloon to expand. High-Altitude balloons are specially designed to expand to a huge diameter. A balloon that starts at 2 m in diameter at launch can expand to a diameter of up to 10 m. As the balloon climbs to the edge of space, it eventually grows to the point where it bursts. The payload then falls back to earth under a parachute. Since the payload has been tracked, it can be recovered along with the recorded scientific data and flight video.

More information: High Altitude Science

Central Wyoming College is participating in the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project. A team headed by Bill Finney and Kate Patterson will be launching high-altitude balloons along the path of totality for the October 2023 and April 2024 eclipses. 

To see tracking data from CWC  balloon launches, visit the BOREALIS tracker here

Test Flight 1 7/31/23

Altitude achieved: 98,360 ft.

The image below is the flight path. 

Test Flight 2 9/8/23

Altitude achieved: 98,422 ft. 

Testing: Venting system to float the balloon and stop the ascent. 

The images below show the flight path, an image of the balloon bursting, and where the balloon's payload landed. Satalite view of the earth, zoomed in to show Riverton, WY and Moneta, MT. Overlayed is the flightpath of the balloon in blue and green.

image of balloon breaking apart at 98,422 feet. Earth is visible in the bottom of the image. Montana landscape. Three Blue and orange boxes that are the balloon payload are in a line across the landscape leading to the parachute.

Building on the highly successful NASA and NSF-sponsored National Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) implemented during the 2017, 2019, and 2020 total solar eclipses, this current effort will broaden the participation of STEM learners by immersing teams from a wide range of higher education institutions in an innovative NASA-mission-like adventure in data acquisition and analysis through scientific ballooning during October 14, 2023, annular and April 8, 2024, total solar eclipses.

NEBP includes the development and implementation of two learner-centered activity tracks – engineering and atmospheric science. At sites along the eclipse path, student teams in the engineering track will use innovative larger balloon systems to live stream video to the NASA eclipse website, observe in situ perturbations in atmospheric phenomena, and conduct individually designed experiments. Atmospheric science track teams will make frequent observations by launching hourly radiosondes on helium-filled weather balloons. Student participants will work with atmospheric science experts throughout the project and will publish results in peer-reviewed journals. 

Source: What is the NEBP