We’re a small group of people in Louisville, KY with some background, education, or at least interest in, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Call us nerds if you like, but we think that stuff is awesome. We’re otherwise regular people ranging from students to retirees. In our free time, we like to build and design stuff and do amateur science. We’re part of the growing Maker/Hacker Culture, and we hang out at LVL1 Hackerspace here in Louisville.
Meet the Team here.
At LVL1, you might find folks working on the balloon project, hacking a child’s toy pony into a fire breathing abomination, creating a cool costume for their cute kid, or building a lighting controller for an over-the-top Christmas display.
In addition to the Louisville team are remote members, contributing significantly, despite the distance are Bill Brown, Huntsville, AL, considered the father of modern amateur weather ballooning, and Carl Lyster, WA4ADG, electronics designer from the Spirit of Knoxville.
The goal is to send a small robotic weather balloon all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and set down safely on land where our payload
can be recovered. That’ll mean landing it in Europe, Africa, or points east. No amateur balloon has ever done this and until recently, this was something only a government agency like NASA or DARPA could accomplish.
We must ride the roaring jet stream wind current, which circles the northern globe like a snake in the winter. It usually only comes down as far as Kentucky during the winter months. When it does reach us, we must also figure out how it will flow as it moves east. Too many twists and turns and the balloon spends too much time over the ocean, runs out of helium and ballast, and sinks. So we need to monitor data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and wait for the a direct path across the Atlantic. We’re created software that will notify us when conditions are right for launch and we would only have a few days notice.
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The jet stream is a shallow river of air, only 2 miles thick, and 100 miles wide, flowing at over 100MPH. When it arrives, we release our balloon to climb up to 35,000 ft above ground, into the core of this wind river overhead. It’s a very hard challenge to stop it’s climb just right – for if we go too far past, too much of our balloon’s helium will flow overboard and our explorer will fall right back to Earth.
We talk with it through satellites, remotely listening to it’s struggles to stay in the bucking, roaring, jet stream. As the sun rises, the balloon will heat up and begin to rise, so it must dump some helium to relieve pressure and descend a bit. Then, when the sun sets, it will cool and will start to sink, so it must dump ballast. We will occasionally help it make decisions from 1000s of miles away, sending instructions to it, as we can see the weather forecasts it can’t, and know much more than we could pack into its tiny brain. See, our tech page for more on exactly how it works.
The balloon will collect data related to the Jet Stream environment on small balloon performance. Balloons may seem antiquated or insignificant, but they are cheap and efficient and widely used to collect data that benefits all of us in our everyday lives. For example, twice daily, balloons are launched from about 800 locations around the world to capture data used in your local weather forecast. Predictable weather is a convenience of modern life, but it also saves lives. Additionally, balloons have various other uses such as monitoring pollution levels, aviation related research, aerial photography for various purposes, and military applications. We hope our data will be useful in development of new balloon technologies and applications.
We also just think this is fun. We love the challenges this has presented. We also hope that, in some small way, we’ll inspire kids and adults alike to pursue science and engineering at a professional or amateur level. We aim to prove that everyone can be a scientist or engineer that uncover or create amazing things.