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Tracking High Altitude Balloons in an EE Projects Class

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Project-based and Cooperative Learning in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1257.1 - 23.1257.7



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Paper Authors


Dick Blandford University of Evansville

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Dick Blandford is the chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Evansville

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Mark Earl Randall University of Evansville

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Don Roberts University of Evansville

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Tracking High Altitude Balloons in an EE Projects ClassAbstractEE 380 is a required junior level projects class in electrical engineering. Each student mustdesign and implement three open-ended projects in three different EE areas, such as electronics,microcontrollers, linear systems, electromagnetics, etc. A fourth team-based project is alsorequired which typically covers two or more areas in EE. This paper describes the team projectwhich has been done for the past three years along with the software that has been developed topredict the balloon flight path and track it in real time.A high altitude balloon is typically 10 to 12 feet in diameter, filled with helium or hydrogen, andcarries a 12 pound payload to an altitude of about 100,000 feet – near space. At this altitude, theballoon will have expanded to about 25 feet in diameter because of the reduced air pressure. Iteventually pops and a parachute allows the payload to survive the trip back to earth. A part ofthe payload includes two radio transmitters and a GPS tracking device. The transmitted radiosignal is decoded and the data is placed on the internet. Software on the ground uses the dataalong with Google® maps or Microsoft® MapPoint to track the balloon's flight in real time.A typical student project requires the design and implementation of an instrumentation packagefor the balloon's flight by a team of two or three students. A balloon can carry six two-poundinstrumentation pods. We put two student-built instrumentation packages in a pod allowing us tohandle 12 to 18 students per flight. Instrumentation for each project varies but typically requiresphotographs, and the periodic measurement of altitude, air pressure, temperature, g-force, orsunlight. The environment is severe with temperatures down to -70o F, nearly zero air pressure,and often high g-forces.This paper is in two parts: The first part presents the mechanics of the projects and providesexamples and results. The second part provides the details of the software we developed that isused to forecast the balloon's flight and track it in real time.

Blandford, D., & Randall, M. E., & Roberts, D. (2013, June), Tracking High Altitude Balloons in an EE Projects Class Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22642

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