As most students enjoyed their first day of fall break, members of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association were enjoying views of a helium balloon they had launched 50,000 feet into the air.
At 11:42 a.m. on Oct. 24, 20 YUAA members successfully launched the high-altitude aircraft, called Horizon Skyview, at the top of Hubbard Park in nearby Meriden, Conn. The balloon was attached to a Kevlar-coated enclosure carrying two high-definition cameras and a tracking system custom-designed by YUAA members, said YUAA co-founder Israel Kositsky ’13. Last month’s launch, the third conducted by YUAA in the past two years, was designed to obtain video footage and digital images of the balloon’s flight and to test YUAA’s communication tracking system. Temperature sensors were also attached to the balloon to record interior and exterior temperatures at different altitudes.
“We’ve been working on this balloon since last semester,” Kositsky said. “This launch was important because the main communication tracking system was one we developed. This system, a point-to-point radio system, put a transceiver on board the balloon, which, using the GPS, transmitted the location of the balloon to us in real time.”
YUAA members split up into three teams and each used a custom-designed iPhone tracking app to follow the trajectory of the balloon in relation to the location of each team, Kositsky said. Two teams used cars to follow the path, with one at the bottom of the hill close to the highway, while the third team watched the balloon’s path from a tower on the elevated hill. Each team transferred the tracking data received from the balloon to a server accessible to every YUAA member. The server also allowed members of the general public to view the balloon’s trajectory via a live feed.
The team chose the Hubbard Park location in order to maintain extended visual and radio contact with the balloon due to the park’s high elevation, said Jan Kolmas ’14, YUAA co-founder and current co-president. Despite the park’s elevation, Kolmas said the location was not ideal because of its proximity to the ocean. The balloon was expected to reach a height of 50,000 feet, but team members are still processing data to obtain the exact altitude, he added. The balloon is also expected to have traveled 60 miles before ultimately landing in the Long Island Sound. Once the helium balloon finally burst, the parachute vehicle floated down into the water, but team members have yet to recover it.
Despite not retrieving the aircraft following the launch, co-president Stephen Hall ’14 said he was pleased overall with how the launch went.
“For the whole month before, we had people waking up at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings to test the balloon at scattered launch locations,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, we have a track of the trajectory the balloon took and that was the main goal of the system, and that is what we need going forward for future projects.”
Aside from the altitude attained, distance traveled and external temperatures measured, Kolmas agreed that the team succeeded in its primary goal to establish an effective tracking communication system.
“To our knowledge, few, if any other organizations, have this type of infrastructure behind their launches,” Kolmas said.
Kositsky said YUAA hopes to modify and apply their tracking and navigation technology to future launches with different aircraft types such as low-altitude aircraft, autonomous aircraft and rocketry. YUAA will use this system on Saturday during its first rocket launch.
Currently, 35 students are involved in YUAA, and a majority of them study STEM-related majors.