Press Release

Balloon to carry U. Colorado-Boulder student “mini satellites” to edge of space

By SpaceRef Editor
August 26, 2001
Filed under ,

A high-altitude balloon will be launched from Byers, Colo., on Saturday, Aug.
25, carrying a payload of miniature student-built satellites to an altitude
of roughly 100,000 feet before bursting and releasing its cargo via parachute.

The three tiny experiments, dubbed "cubesats," were designed and built by two
groups of Colorado high school students and a team of CU-Boulder undergraduates
under the direction of Chris Koehler, deputy director of the Colorado Space
Grant Consortium, part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. The
balloon launch is being coordinated by the "Edge of Space Sciences" group,
or EOSS, a Colorado-based non-profit organization, which has been launching
student balloon payloads for nearly a decade.

The 12 undergraduate students from Koehler’s group at CU-Boulder will be in
charge of the launch and monitor the balloon’s progress via digital video
downlink as it carries its 11.3-pound payload. Each of the cubesats is 10
centimeters on a side and weighs approximately 1 pound. Another Colorado-based
group, the "Civilian Space Exploration Team," or CSXT, also is flying a
payload called a "windsonde" aboard the craft. The college students’ camera
and monitoring equipment make up the rest of the payload weight.

The student teams have designed their own experiments to explore the upper
atmosphere. All three cubesats are equipped with cameras to take high altitude

One experiment will compare onboard temperature changes with photos taken at
different intervals to get a better understanding of the atmosphere’s makeup
at different altitudes. Another cubesat has special landing doors, which will
pop open upon touchdown and cause the little craft to right itself. All of
the experiments were built for less than $400.

Thanks to CSXT, the launch has caught the attention of The Discovery Channel,
which will have a crew on hand for the launch and recovery. "In particular,
they will be interested in the live video downlink," Koehler said.

The helium-filled mylar balloon will ascend at a rate of 1,000 feet per minute
for approximately 90 minutes. Before bursting at its peak altitude, the
balloon will have a diameter of nearly 30 feet. Since there is essentially no
atmosphere at that height, the payload will plummet back to Earth at a speed
approaching Mach 1, before being slowed by its parachute.

The students and their faculty advisers follow the balloon using radio and
GPS tracking data.

"It’s a lot like old-fashioned storm chasing," said Koehler. The group
currently expects the payload’s landing site to be approximately 19 miles
northeast of the Byers’ launch site.

Saturday marks the first balloon launch since the consortium’s successful
flight on April 21, which carried four of the cubesats to the very edge of
Earth’s atmosphere.

The Colorado Space Grant Consortium was created with funding from NASA in
1989 to give undergraduate students the opportunity to design, build and
fly space instruments. Although all 50 states have their own consortiums,
Colorado’s has been especially successful, flying three sounding rocket
payloads and two payloads on space shuttle missions.

For further details, including directions to the launch site, please see the
EOSS Web site at, or contact Chris Koehler at (303) 492-4750.

SpaceRef staff editor.