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COES students to launch high-altitude balloon experiment during eclipse

A group of Louisiana Tech University engineering students and professors will travel to Carbondale, Illinois to launch a high-altitude balloon during the solar eclipse on August 21.

The students have worked with Dr. Arden Moore, assistant professor of mechanical and nanosystems engineering at the Louisiana Tech Institute for Micromanufacturing (IfM) as part of the NASA Eclipse Ballooning Project. During the eclipse, the Louisiana Tech team will join 54 other teams from schools across the country in launching high-altitude balloons with electronic payloads formatted to take environmental measurements.

Louisiana Tech payload high above the earth during a recent test flight.

The team from Louisiana Tech is providing a payload that is programmed to record ultra violet (UV) rays across the spectrum, and will gather information on UV-A, UV-B and UV-C irradiance at high altitude before, during and after the eclipse.

Brendon Doran (master’s degree student, electrical engineering), John Aguillard (junior, electrical engineering), Andre Aguillard (sophomore, electrical engineering), Tyler Fontenot (sophomore, electrical engineering), Elizabeth Talbot (sophomore, chemical engineering), T.J. Spence (doctoral student, engineering), James Covington (alumnus, mechanical engineering 2017) and Madeline Carlisle Collins (Louisiana Tech alumnae, mechanical engineering 2017) developed the balloon and payload with Moore’s guidance over the past year, and had a successful balloon launch that reached more than 100,000 feet last May.

Following this test launch, the Louisiana Tech students were selectively chosen by the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE) to be eligible to participate in the eclipse flight this August. Dr. Mary Caldorera-Moore, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and part of the Living with the Lab faculty, will also be on hand at the launch. Both students and faculty will assist with STEM outreach activities related to the eclipse in the days leading up to the launch.

Designed with a total weight of 500 grams to match the weight limit imposed by NASA, the payload was attached to the balloon launched in May. During its ascent and descent, it recorded broadband UV, UV-A, UV-B and UV-C data as well as temperature and pressure at high altitude. The payload for the upcoming launch has been built with the same size limitations, and is expected to reach between 90,000 and 100,000 feet during the eclipse.

The Louisiana Tech team designed and programmed a data-recording scheme using techniques they learned in Louisiana Tech’s first-year engineering “Living with the Lab” program. The data-recording scheme includes an Arduino that reads the outputs from the various sensors on the payload and writes them to a microSD card that the students recover to analyze the data.

Moore credits Louisiana Tech’s College of Engineering and Science education model that encourages students to experience programming early in their curricula with the success of the project.

“The students have done a wonderful job on this project, and I’m very happy that they have the opportunity to participate in such a unique scientific experience as conducting a flight during an eclipse as a result,” Moore said. “I also think the project highlights the hands-on, multidisciplinary nature of our engineering programs in general and the Living with the Lab program in particular. Without those foundations, this project would not have been as successful.”

The project was funded through a grant from LaSPACE’s Louisiana Aerospace Catalyst Experiences for Students (LaACES) program via federal funding from NASA.

Live footage of the eclipse will be available via NASA’s live feed at https://www.nasa.gov/eclipselive as the event rolls across the U.S. skies.

Written by Brandy McKnight – mcknight@latech.edu