Balloons to provide unique view of upcoming solar eclipse
By PAT EATON-ROBB
Aug. 09, 2017
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A team of students and professors from the University of Hartford and the University of Bridgeport were about to send their 8-foot balloon toward the stratosphere Wednesday as part of a solar eclipse project when someone noticed a problem.
A faulty signal had been sent to a mechanism that is designed to separate a camera and parachute from the balloon at altitude. The mechanism was trying to cut the cord before the launch.
"That's why we test," said University of Hartford professor John Ferreira.
With the problem fixed, the balloon headed into the sky on a practice run for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.
The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, comprised of faculty and students from the two schools, is one of 55 teams from 30 consortia across the nation that will launch balloons up to 100,000 feet high along the path of the eclipse.
The Connecticut consortium will launch its balloon at Kenlake State Resort in Hardin, Kentucky, near the spot where the eclipse will be in totality for the longest amount of time.
The images from their video camera will be live-streamed on NASA's website. It is expected to show the curvature of the earth and the entire moon's shadow crossing the planet during the eclipse.
The payload on the eclipse balloon also will carry a small amount of bacteria for a separate experiment designed to learn more about how organisms from space might survive a trip through the atmosphere.
Cater Arico, the Connecticut consortium's associate director, said the project is a chance for students in a number of different engineering disciplines, all of whom are interested in space, to get some hands-on experience with a real NASA project.
"Right now, they are learning a lot about collaboration," she said. "All the technical stuff was probably easy in the beginning. But today they are all working on different things— contacting the FAA, looking at wind patterns. They are learning so much."
Wednesday's test was considered a success, despite a couple of hiccups that members of the team say they can learn from. The payload on the test balloon was recovered several hours after the launch, about 100 feet up in a tree in Dudley, Massachusetts, about 25 miles from its predicted landing zone near Storrs.
University of Hartford senior Stefan Keilich, a mechanical engineering major from Windsor, said besides learning a lot about video links and weather balloons, he's also pretty excited to get to see the total eclipse in person.
"Also, it's a great aerospace project and it will look really good on a resume," he said.