What could be more fun that learning about science, launching a raw egg into fringe of outer space, and setting a world record in the progress?
(I could add: "And get to spend some time out in the sunshine instead of stuck in class?")
Richard Miller's 8th grade Aerospace Class at Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay got to do all that on Friday, launching a high altitude (weather-type) balloon that had a tracking device, two cameras, a raw egg, and a thermometer.
"I wanted my aerospace students to dream big and do a big end of year project involving actual near space flight," he said.
The goal: Set the record for highest successful egg drop, currently around 700 feet.
Their GPS tracking data confirmed the balloon reached heights of at least 40,000 feet on the way up, then started tracking again as the balloon came under 40,000 feet. (Miller says the GPS stopped transmitting altitude above 40,000 feet, an apparent limitation of the tracking process.)
However, according to the Automatic Position Reporting System Internet network, the balloon
reached a peak height of 109,373 feet, or just over 20 miles up!
The FAA tracked their balloon's flight using the website the school provided and alerted aircraft in the vicinity. Miller said several commercial pilots relayed messages to them that they had observed the balloon as it exceeded altitudes of over 40,000 feet.
Their class predicted their balloon would come down around Mt. Rainier, which was going to present some potential challenges in retrieving the egg.
"We were scared by the possibility of retrieving the balloon in difficult mountain terrain so we intentionally underinflated the balloon," Miller said, adding the more helium you put in a balloon, the shorter its flight. An under-inflated balloon can survive to 110,000 feet. "We hoped to thus land near Yakima."
The flight went a bit farther though and luckily they did get a very easy landing spot near Pasco -- 217 miles away.
Miller says a parent and student followed the tracker beacon and retrieved it in Eastern Washington, documenting that their egg survived:
And here is where the egg went -- the southern track is the in-flight track. You can then see how they drove the balloon back on I-90:
And what a harrowing flight it took! Their tracking system showed as the balloon passed Yakima, it was at 37,000 feet and going 100 mph!
That matches the forecasted winds there which had expected winds of 90 knots (104 mph) at 28,000-30,000 feet: (Triangles are 50 kts, each additional line is 10 knots on the wind barbs)
Unfortunately the balloon's flight time well exceeded the battery life of the two on-board GoPro cameras, so they don't have video of the last half their flight.
"Typical high altitude balloon flights take 2 to 2 1/2 hours and our GoPro cameras could shoot video for 2 1/2 hours," Miller said. "Unfortunately with our underinflated balloon our flight time increased to almost 6 hours (5 hours, 47 minutes) - well beyond the capacity of our camera batteries."
But I'll bet it went something a lot like this:
Which makes the fact the KPMS egg survived, that much more impressive!
Congrats KPMS and Mr. Miller's class!