Aviation students at Fairmont State University are preparing to launch a high-altitude balloon to the edge of space this month as part of their activities for their Aviation Physics course. Working with StratoStar, a STEM education company, students will design their own experiment and send it soaring into the stratosphere. Funding for the project is through the Title III Strengthening Institutions Grant.

The helium-filled weather balloon carries a box containing a satellite link, plus several payload boxes that contain cameras, sensors, GPS tracking device and possibly several experiments. The balloon typically rises to 100,000 feet, at which point the expanded balloon bursts, and follows a parachute-assisted descent to a landing site where it will be recovered.

The focus of the entire project is on developing 21st century skills through project-based learning. The launch involves several phases: organizing and scheduling the launch; designing experiments that measure environmental conditions at high altitudes, and the effects of such conditions on items of interest; assembling the experiments into several payload boxes; predicting and tracking the balloon’s flight; launching the balloon and collecting the data; recovering the balloon and payload boxes; and downloading and analyzing the collected data.

The tethered launch will be held at the Fairmont Municipal Airport during the Alpha Eta Rho and FSU Flying Falcons Fly-In Breakfast at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 15. The students will conduct the tethered launch with a smaller balloon to test the payload experiments, the satellite link, and all the other equipment to be used in the main launch. (The rain date for the tethered launch will be 3 p.m. Monday, April 17.) This mission may be followed with this link: Falcon Mission 1: https://tracking.stratostar.net/mission/0124.

The main launch is scheduled for Thursday, April 27, at 10 a.m. at FSU’s Duvall-Rosier Field. (The rain date will be 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29.) The launch of the large balloon may be followed with this link: Falcon Mission 2: https://tracking.stratostar.net/mission/0125.

The high-altitude weather balloon project is designed to get students out of the classroom and into a real-life mission. Because they are involved in every aspect of the project, students will be developing skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

StratoStar is a STEM education company that travels across the country to start project-based learning programs in schools to place a greater emphasis on STEM education initiatives. Using high-altitude weather balloons, easy-to-use software, and a specific teaching plan, StratoStar takes students away from textbooks and puts them into real life missions. For more information on StratoStar and how you can launch your own weather balloon, visit: www.stratostar.net.