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April 20, 2014

Short jaunt to Noblesville becomes long journey for Purdue balloonists

AMET balloon launch

Purdue students with the Association of Mechanical and Electrical Technologists fill their custom-designed, high-altitude, rocket-launching balloon with hydrogen at a field adjacent to the Purdue Airport. The team competed in the 2014 Global Space Balloon Challenge (April 18-21). (Photo provided by Jim Schenke)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A radio-fired rocket was supposed to end a quick high-altitude flight near Noblesville, Ind., but an unexpectedly durable balloon led Purdue students on a nine-hour winding odyssey deep into Ohio that ended at the end of dirt road in remote farm country on Saturday (April 19).

The Association of Mechanical and Electrical Technologists was competing in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, an international education outreach and collaboration project to encourage people from around the world to build and launch their own high-altitude balloon science experiments. The students built a balloon with hydrogen-venting valving that leveled-off at 80,000 feet as designed. But extreme cold at that altitude interfered with the team's telegenic pyrotechnics - the launch of a spaceward rocket that would pierce the balloon, sending the entire craft back to earth.

Minus that mission-ending missile, the balloon proceeded into Ohio at elevations far higher than airliners. Radio communications allowed the team to track the balloon electronically. Approaching night cooled the hydrogen enough that the balloon dropped to altitudes where it could be traced visually. The team was waiting in a field at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time to physically catch the payload, only to have a tree do the honors. Still, it was the first time the team ever video recorded one of its balloon landings.

While chasing the Ohio-bound balloon, the team did lose track of it's second launch that featured a densely filled latex balloon with a light payload that was designed to quickly zoom to 130,000, burst and quickly descend. That flight was designed to be too brief to become subject to prevailing winds. The team believes its payload, including a video camera, is in its native Tippecanoe County. Approximately the size of a one-quart paint can, the payload is marked with a phone number to reach the team.

The Purdue Polytechnic Institute sponsored the team's Saturday flights. With the competition running through April 21, the team is exploring the possibility of another launch on Sunday (April 20).

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Source: Dahlon Lyles, AMET project coordinator, dlyles@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: B-Roll and soundbites are available for download and use at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public in a folder named BallloonLaunchEaster2014. Additional photos and videos are available on request, including HD video from the balloon itself. Interviews are available with students. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu.