Sending balloons into earth’s stratosphere is part of what Tennessee Tech’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space does. The group has sent up a number of high-altitude balloons, but the balloon they sent up during the August 2017 solar eclipse, named Shadow Eagle, has won an award for its design and their efforts have gotten the attention of the national SEDS organization.
“Our launch during the eclipse went really well,” said Nathan Daniel of the Tech SEDS group. “We got some amazing footage.”
From 60,000 feet high above earth, the balloon carried a camera that collected footage of the moon’s shadow as it traveled across North America. The design of the mechanisms attached to their balloon, referred to as the balloon payload, won second place in the Global Space Balloon Design Challenge where they were up against university teams worldwide, professionals, and hobbyists.
“What was really important to us in our design was that the payload not be spinning,” Daniel explained. “We have seen that in the past with our cameras and we really wanted to get some smooth, quality footage this time.”
Daniel watched the GPS on the balloon throughout the eclipse and was a bit concerned when he saw the balloon travel outside of the path, but once the balloon fell, landing in nearby field, and the students played the footage they captured, they found that their design had worked well and they had gotten solid footage of the moon’s shadow.
“We were all yelling and cheering and we spent hours reviewing the footage,” Daniel said. “We were really happy with it.”
But when the Tech students launched their balloon from the Tech Farms that day, they weren’t the only ones with an eye to the Tennessee sky. Along with the thousands of people who filled Tucker Stadium to experience the eclipse, Tech’s SEDS organization held a mini conference that brought together SEDS chapters from other universities as well.
The students spent the weekend on campus together participating in rocketry competitions, hearing from guest speakers and getting to know other students with similar interests.
In November, Tech SEDS presented at a student-run conference and was awarded for Best Outreach Event for the work they did during the eclipse.
Now, the Tech SEDS group has connected with more students interested in space and high-altitude balloons. This time, they are students in the third grade at Gainesboro Elementary School. They are working together and sharing equipment to allow the elementary students to launch some balloons of their own.
“A lot of it is for the cool factor,” Daniel said. “But projects like this really teach us a lot too.”
SEDS is a non-profit organization with student chapters all over the world. In SEDS students are empowered to participate and make an impact in space exploration and development. The Tech chapter was founded in 2015 and has about 20 active members who participate in high altitude balloon launches that travel higher into the sky than commercial airplanes, University Student Rocketry Competitions and National Association of Rocketry events.To view the footage gathered during the eclipse and other high-altitude balloon launches, visit the organization’s YouTube channel here.