Space Weather Balloon


Space Weather Balloon

Curriculum Materials

Space Weather Balloon

Launch high-altitude weather balloons
 to teach physics concepts and experimental research skills to your students, making space exploration accessible to them. A high-altitude weather balloon can carry high-definition cameras, GPS devices, and sciences experiments designed by your students to an altitude of 100,000 feet, and safely return them by parachute.  Scientists are currently using high-altitude weather balloons to study cosmic rays, atmospheric phenomena such as "sprites," the aurora borealis or "Northern Lights," and meteors, among many other things.

The balloon and payload are launched with FAA clearance during a LaunchFest from a site chosen based on wind patterns and predicted safe landing locations. Each team's balloon ascends over two hours to a maximum altitude of 100,000 feet or more, where it bursts, allowing the payload to slowly descend using a built-in parachute. The balloon's location is monitored during its flight by GPS-satellite relay. The payload is located using the GPS device, and the HD video/stills and science and engineering data are then recovered from the payload.

At present, active balloon research is being conducted in the areas of cosmic ray physics; astronomy in a variety of bands including microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, X rays, and gamma rays; atmospheric sciences including sprites research; magnetospheric and auroral physics; and micrometeor studies.

The range of experiments that can be considered for inclusion in a Space Weather Balloon payload is limited only by the imagination of the students. The small size of a weather balloon payload does impose some limitations. We will mention some of the possibilities in this overview and provide greater detail on some of them in the lesson plans.

Download the curriculum materials and supply list so you will be ready to go when you get to the workshop.


Over the course of 8-12 weeks students will:
  • Research the upper atmosphere
  • Investigate satellites, sounding rockets & balloon payloads
  • Start to construct a design and balloon payload
  • Form design teams to use engineering design process to determine a problem and a solution for their experiment
  • Research launch conditions
  • Plan presentation
  • Calibrate instruments and determine atmospheric conditions that will affect their experiment
  • Test components of the payload and prepare pre-launch checklist
  • Ready balloon and payload for launch and test equipment
  • Evaluate data collected from the balloon and draw conclusions
  • Present project and project notebook






Engineering Design Process

State the Problem   •   Generate Ideas   •   Select a Solution

Build the Item   •   Evaluate aand Test   •   Refine   •   Present Results


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