Examining near-space using a balloon

Grade 11 Peacock student Jaydon Patterson prepares to launch a high altitude balloon at Peacock Collegiate on June 16, 2017. Lisa Goudy/Times-Herald

Peacock science project sees launch of high altitude balloon

Science was flying high in the skies around Moose Jaw Friday morning.

For the second year running, Peacock Collegiate science teacher Stephen Lys launched a high altitude balloon equipped with a GoPro, a GPS and a flight computer to calculate measurements of near-space, the area that extends from sea level to 100,000 feet into the stratosphere.

“You hear about the jet stream and what not. To send something up there and take data on it and look at it is kind of neat,” said Lys after the balloon had been launched at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.

“You see a lot of things that we learn about in class about how temperature changes as you go up into the stratosphere and things like that. You can actually plot how the temperature drops and then starts rising up again.”

The equipment on the balloon takes measurements of the balloon’s altitude, trajectory, atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed. The balloon’s location was also tracked live online.

“We opened up a contest to the school and the community asking them to try and guess where it lands. So when it goes up, it’s going to come down somewhere,” said Lys. “It’s kind of a way to get the community involved and get the kids excited about it whether or not they’re in science class.”

The balloon launched in 2016 was in the air for just over two hours, reached 70,000 feet and speeds faster than 220 kilometres per hour before landing near Good Spirit Lake north of Yorkton.

This year, according to the live data available here, the balloon landed west of Regina near Pinkie Road not long after 12:30 p.m., putting the balloon in the air for four hours.

Peacock principal Dustin Swanson said the best part of the experiment is the opportunity for students to experience real-world science, including how the balloon will pick up speed once it gets into the jet stream.

“It’s not at all like it is on ground and the students learn that,” said Swanson. “There’s all these things that happen when you go up higher and that’s why we do it, to learn, and it’s pretty cool. It’s quite a fun event for everybody.”

Jaydon Patterson, Grade 11 Peacock student, helped launch the balloon on Friday. He also won the contest last year, guessing within six kilometres of where the balloon landed.

This year, he said he did plenty of research to figure out an educated guess of the balloon landing a few kilometres southwest of Regina.

“First I had to sneak information from Mr. Lys, like how much the balloon weighs, how much helium it can hold, how much the pod weighs,” said Patterson. “After getting all of that, there are several simulators online that’ll show, given the weather conditions, how high the balloon will go and where it should land and I ran somewhere near 100 simulations last night, just to be extra sure.”

He said his favourite part of the balloon launch is at the end “when we get to review all of the footage of it going up … just seeing the blackness of space is very cool.”