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Paper: High-Altitude Balloon Launches and Hands-On Sensors for Effective Student Learning in Astronomy and STEM
Volume: 443, Earth and Space Science: Making Connections in Education and Public Outreach
Page: 340
Authors: Voss, H. D.; Dailey, J.; Snyder, S. J.
Abstract: Students creating and flying experiments into near-space using a low-cost balloon High-Altitude Research Platform (HARP) greatly advance understanding in introductory astronomy and advanced classes across several disciplines. Remote sensing above 98% of the atmosphere using cameras, image intensifiers, IR, and UV sensors provides access to the heavens and large regions of the earth below. In situ and limb atmospheric gas measurements, near-space stratosphere measurements, and cosmic rays engage students in areas from planetary atmospheres to supernova acceleration. This new capability is possible by exposing students to recent advances in MEMS technology, nanotechnology, wireless telecommunication systems, GPS, DSPs and other microchip miniaturizations to build less than 4 kg payloads. The HARP program provides an engaging laboratory, gives challenging science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field experiences, reaches students from diverse backgrounds, encourages collaboration among science faculty, and provides quantitative assessment of the learning outcomes. Over a seven-year period, Taylor University, an undergraduate liberal arts school, has successfully launched over 230 HARP systems to altitudes over 30 km (100% retrieval success with rapid recovery) with flight times between two and six hours. The HARP payloads included two GPS tracking systems, cameras and monitors, a 110 kbit down link, an uplink command capability for educational experiments (K–12 and undergraduate). Launches were conducted during the day and night, with multiple balloons, with up to 10 payloads for experiments, and under varying weather and upper atmospheric conditions. The many launches in a short period of time allowed the payload bus design to evolve toward increased performance, reliability, standardization, simplicity, and modularity for low-cost launch services. Through NSF and NASA grants, the program has expanded, leading to representatives from more than 52 universities being trained at workshops to implement high-altitude balloon launches in the classroom. A spin-off company, StratoStar Systems LLC, now sells the turn-key high-altitude balloon system, and another spin-off company, NearSpace Launch, now offers a low cost ride-for-hire into near-space.
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