Elementary and middle school students led by some inspirational volunteers were able to capture this incredible image of the sun on the Earth's horizon, winning the 3rd place prize for best photo. I've never seen young people looking so happy to be out working on a school project so early in the morning! Congrats team!
From the team: "The Bartlett, NH Balloon Engineering and Research Squad (B.E.A.R.S.) was started in 2015 by volunteers Bruce Consaul and Roger Marcoux at the Bartlett Recreation Department. The goal was to bring high altitude ballooning to local elementary and middle school students and to make science, technology engineering and math fun. The team's first launch was in April 2015, as part of the Global Space Balloon Challenge. In 2016 we did 2 launches, one in April and one in May, although only one was in time to be part of the GSBC. This year's student team members are (back row from left to right in photo) 7th graders Sierra McManus, Lilah Felix, Hayleigh Young, 4th grader Jake Young, 7th grader Caleb White, 8th grader Chey-Anne Roy, 9th grader Becca Consaul, and 7th graders Nat & Lilly Barber. In the front row left to right are 7th graders Nicole Lockhart and Brianna Consaul. This years adult team members are leaders Roger Marcoux and Bruce Consaul, with help from Rosemary Consaul, Justin Lipson, and Jim Pettingill.
The B.E.A.R.S. got up bright and early at 2:00 am on April 21, 2016, met at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett NH at 3:00 am and drove an hour northwest to our launch site at the Maplewood Golf Course in the little town of Bethlehem NH. Arriving at 4:00 am in hopes for a 4:45 am launch, it was total darkness except for the setting full moon and headlamps from all of the high altitude ballooners flitting around making launch preparations. The temperature was 35.7 degrees on the ground. Roger Marcoux from DragonFly Aerials LLC flew a quadcopter up over the launch site and filmed the take-off from above.
After supervising the balloon inflation, as soon as we had cellphone service, Bruce Consaul contacted the FAA in Boston Center, to let them know of our launch, and away we went!
Meanwhile, back in the home town of Bartlett NH, Jim Pettengill was setting up the ground tracking station at his business, Bartlett Automotive, directly across from the Bartlett School, and was streaming live video and telemetry from the balloon on Livestream.com as were we from the launch site and the party afterward. Onboard were several methods of GPS tracking including one that was to provide live tracking on the Internet. Another sent live video and telemetry data down to one of the chase vehicles while also taking still photos straight down and transmitting it via a 2,500 mw transmitter. There were 4 cameras onboard, 2 of them taking video and two of them taking stills. We got some great shots and video!
Besides the required radar reflector, we had built a “bucky ball” last year, which is essentially a chrome mylar covered disco ball, with 32 mirrored facets, to increase the visibility both during flight, as well as afterward, during the search. We knew that our balloon would be visible as a star if it was still dark when the sun hit it, but we were amazed an hour later, when we rolled back through Bartlett and learned that the ground tracking station had made naked eye visual contact with the balloon at 51,938 feet ASL even after the sky had brightened up! The bucky ball was doing its job flashing in the sun. It was so amazing to look up at the “star” we had put there an hour earlier! 11 miles away, another observer spotted it and watched it burst through binoculars (as did the ground tracking crew in Bartlett) at 81,741 feet ASL! At this point, it was still early in the chase as Justin Lipson kept constant video and telemetry contact throughout most of the flight holding the yagi antenna out the passenger side window for more than 2 hours of chasing.
After passing through our home town, we came to the stark realization that two of our forms of tracking, both relying on cellphone service had been turned off a day early by the phone company! Rosemary Consaul who was driving the bus full of excited students pulled to the side of the road and called in to the telephone company with her credit card and turned them back on. One of them gave us the correct answer when we called it after that, so we knew it would be okay when we got closer to the Earth. The other one required a reboot and was done for the day, so no online live tracking.
Our destination was Parsonsfield Maine, and we were 10 miles behind the balloon, because we had taken some time to revel in the “star” sighting. Once the balloon was showing that it was below 10,000 feet, we all started calling one of the onboard trackers, in hopes of getting a good cellphone signal before it was down in the trees. The lead chase vehicle reached the last known location shortly after and began systematically driving all of the side roads to determine where the strongest signal was. Unfortunately, the antenna was buried in the mud and the range was dramatically reduced, preventing us from reading the coordinates.
All of the kids and leaders made their way into the swamp to feed the bugs and search the one known location where it had still been traveling at 2.1 mph, so we knew it wasn’t on the ground when it sent that location. We looked for hours in the neighborhood and DragonFly Aerials LLC even sent up a quadcopter to search the area from above, all with no luck. Justin Lipson, who has a good sense of tracking and who was so persistent that he was still calling the balloon 5 hours after it had landed, suddenly got another text back from the balloon, but only the first part of the two part message had been received! We texted the coordinates back to Jim at the ground station and had him input them into Google Earth and tell us which way to walk from where we were. We barely had enough cell-signal to reach him. We were headed in the rough direction, when Justin got the coordinates into an app on his phone, and with just 1 percent battery left, he ran through the woods following the tracker. Minutes later we got a text message back from him “I found it!” It was a bit more than 1,000 feet from the location we had searched for hours in rural Maine. Just before he reached it, he came across another balloon hanging in the trees that led him to ours. It was a small balloon with two notes wrapped up in it, from a girl in memory of her father on his birthday!
Battery life of all kinds has been one of the biggest obstacles in our HAB experiences. Not only on our cellphones, but on the balloon. We have two of our 4 cameras externally powered, so they will run for 5 hours, but because everything is powered by Lipo batteries, if we don’t reach it in time to turn them off, it kills the batteries. We had a daylight visible strobe and a long string of red and green leds on the string above the payload capsule for maximum visibility in the early morning hours. We measured 53.6 below zero at 36,912 feet and it was warmer, at 12.1 below zero at 81,741 feet! We traveled 54.7 miles and hit 75 MPH both horizontally and vertically.
We had a great pizza party in Cornish Maine afterward, and then stopped for a well-deserved ice cream cone! Since we had all been up since 2:00 am we were glad to head home victorious again! After waiting a full month for the right day to keep our balloon from blowing into the Atlantic Ocean, we launched our second balloon this spring right from the Bartlett School grounds, and the entire student body and staff and local news media came out to watch! It was another great adventure and allowed many more people to enjoy it, including two of our balloon club members (see inset phone on the right side) who hadn’t been able to attend the first launch. We are hoping that launch attracts new members for next year’s Global Space Balloon Challenge! Fun stuff!!
Check out our video and photos at www.facebook.com/highaltitudebears"