T-Minus Six Days and Counting!

We can’t believe it’s only six days left until the eclipse! We’re super excited about the upcoming launch. But we’re also a bit nervous too, because there are so many things to do and we are getting lots of communications from the Montana Space Grant. It’s so cool to be part of a bigger project with real scientists, but we hope we don’t mess anything up!

We’ve had no internet access for the last few days because our family has been on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. We saw lots of wildlife, including bears, wolves, bison and elk, and we saw geysers, hot springs, and mud pots too. There was a lot to learn about biology and geology!

But now it’s about astronomy and engineering and technology as we prepare for the launch. Being part of the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), we now have a detailed schedule of the days before launch and launch day itself. The MSGC group with the Wyoming site eclipse ballooning team is split into two groups: the Radiosonde group and the Large Balloon group, which is what we belong to.  Under the National Space Grant program eclipse ballooning activities, we are all covered by a national NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) issued by the FAA. This is all official!

We are one of five large balloons that will launch on Eclipse Day: Four Science balloons (Sent into Space, Loki Lego Launcher, MSGC Science Payload, and MIT LL payloads) and one MSGC Live Video payload.  This will be the one that will be broadcasting images live to a ground tracking system, which will then be available for everyone to see online.  We will not be broadcasting video live from the Loki Lego Launcher, but we will be providing our APRS tracking data in almost real-time, like our last launch.

Here is our planned schedule for the days leading up to the eclipse:

Aug 18 – MSGC teams make their way to Fort Laramie, WY

Aug 19 – Teams do site survey, full systems test

Aug 20 – Radiosonde teams do initial launches, large balloon teams do full systems test

Aug 21 – Eclipse Day (all times Mountain Time):

10:00am Large balloon prep
10:25am Start to inflate the large balloons
10:45am-11:00am Large balloon launches!  Will be separated 1-2 minutes apart to avoid tangling lines.
11:15am Large Balloon Launch (MSGC live video payload)
3:00pm-7:00pm Payload retrieval.
Post Launch: Eclipse, Science, Nerd party! (borrowed from our site schedule)

None of this would be possible for us without all the people at the Montana Space Grant Consortium.  Thank you for this amazing opportunity!

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Saved by SPOT!

Something that’s been on our mind recently is the fact that we couldn’t find our SPOT Trace GPS tracker. We moved recently and the SPOT is somewhere in a moving box. We’re leaving for the trip soon and we were super worried because we need the SPOT to weigh and make all our final calculations.

Just yesterday, a package arrived addressed to Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung! We were surprised because we usually don’t get packages. When we opened it, we saw the package for a brand new SPOT Trace! We also found a very nice note from the people who work at the SPOT and GlobalStar company. We’re super grateful that we can launch with a SPOT GPS again and we can now make all our complete weight calculations. Thank you SPOT!

 

Two Weeks Until the Eclipse!

There are only two weeks left until the eclipse, and we have been busy preparing for the upcoming launch. We’ve done several tests, ran a number of calculations, and done research on the eclipse.

This launch is going to be much more challenging than our previous launches. The shadow of the solar eclipse is moving across the surface of the earth at over 1600mph (2500 km/h), which gives us a time window of approximately two minutes and forty seconds. This means we have to time our launch so that our launcher is at the right altitude and location when it enters totality.

Altitude

We want our launcher to be at roughly 80,000 feet when it hits totality. If it is too low, we won’t be able to capture the blackness of space with the shadow of the moon and the curvature of the earth. If it is too high, we risk the balloon bursting before the launcher can film totality.

The lift of our launcher is affected by the lifting force of our balloon and the weight of the payload. The University of Montana is generously providing us with a 2000g balloon and the helium, which will give us more lift than our previous two launches. Because of our additional lift, we’re able to to include more weight on our payload than previous launches. We’ll be able to include an additional GoPro as well as an Iridium satellite tracker (more on this later).

Calculating our ascent rate is complicated due to these changes in lift and the weight of our payload. This is further complicated by the fact that we want to hit 80,000 in a 2 1/2 minute window of time.

Location

The width of the shadow of the moon on the earth in totality is approximately seventy miles. Since we will be launching from near the center of the path, that means we have about 35 miles of leeway in a north-south direction. We have no way to predict the wind two weeks in advance, but wind directions a week from now indicate wind is blowing in a east-west direction. In previous missions, our launcher travelled approximately 50 and 70 miles from launch to landing. So, we have the added complication of trying to launch in the correct location so that our launcher stays within the path of totality.

So this is why our calculations this time are much more complicated than previous launches.

 

We have been offered an Iridium satellite tracker which communicates through a network of Iridium satellites in orbit around the world. This provides us with an additional redundancy in tracking and retrieval in addition to our SPOT GPS tracker and our APRS Radio Bug. Thank you Montana Space Grant for offering this to us!

We have recently been featured in some media, and we’d like to give our thanks to the Seattle Times, GeekWire, and Q13 News.

For the first time, our project isn’t just our family alone, but we’re now part of something bigger. We’re very grateful to be part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, and are looking forward to sending our data to NASA. It’s thrilling to be working with real scientists from different educational organizations around the country. We’ve been e-mailing with people that we’re soon going to be working with, and every time we receive a new e-mail it feels very humbling.

We’re really looking forward to this launch!

It’s Official! Amelia Earhart will fly on our next launch!

We’ve taken down the poll to see who the LEGO minifigure we will send up on the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 will be. There were three choices: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Amelia Earhart the first pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, and Meridah from the Disney movie Brave.

The winner is … drumroll please … Amelia Earhart!

Amelia Earhart, who was a very brave pioneer in the aviation industry, is going to fly again, but this time, on the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0.

Amelia Earhart is no stranger to flying. She beat the Women’s Altitude record at 14,000 ft in 1922 which was extremely high at the time. Additionally, in 1930, she set the speed record of 181 miles per hour over 3 kilometers. She is most famous for being the first ever person to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane.  “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards, I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things that men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others,” Amelia once said in a letter to her husband. Amelia tried to prove anyone can be anything, if that is what they want.

Thank you to everyone who voted in our online poll!  That was a lot of fun!  More updates about our next launch to come soon.

Collaborating with NASA Astrobiology

We have been given the opportunity to collaborate with astrobiology researchers from the NASA Ames Research Center.  We are so lucky!

The NASA Ames research team develops activities that are based around the study of the origins and evolution of stars, planetary systems, and life on Earth, Mars, and elsewhere.

The experiment we are participating in involves participants in the NASA Eclipse Ballooning project sending up samples of a certain bacteria into the stratosphere. Because the stratosphere has little oxygen and there is more radiation from the sun, it is a good representation of the Martian atmosphere.  This experiment will help the researchers understand what happens to the bacteria when it has been in an extreme Mars-like environment.

The bacteria is called Paenibacillus xerothermodurans, which is a spore forming bacteria that was isolated from the NASA spacecraft assembly clean-rooms in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 29 teams that are participating each have their own bit of this same bacteria they will be attaching to their payloads, and the NASA Ames team will examine the bacteria after the launchers have been retrieved.

Above is a map of where the 29 teams will be launching. We are one of the pinpoints in East Wyoming.

The whole experiment is a very cool idea, and we’re so excited to be a part of it. It’s going to be super fun!  We’re looking forward to receiving our field kit from the NASA Ames team.  Thank you for letting us participate!

We Get to Work With NASA On the Next Launch!

The poll on which new Lego minifigure to send up is going great so far and we’re all looking forward the launch!

One super excited thing that’s happening this launch is that we are going to be working with the Eclipse Ballooning Project! This project consists of citizen scientists across the country who will be launching weather balloons into the path of totality. At the end, we all share our data with each other and NASA, which we think will be really cool. We’ll be launching in Glendo, Wyoming with the Montana Space Grant Consortium and will get to work on our project alongside real scientists.

We’re also hoping to be part of a NASA microbiology project that intends to examine how microorganisms fare in near-space conditions. We’ll post more about that later.

We’ve decided on our two goals for this launch:

1. To capture footage of the moon’s shadow on the earth

2. To capture and analyze data from our flight computer and solar panel as they pass through the solar eclipse

We’ll post more about differences for this launch and other details soon. Super excited!

Who Should We Send to the Stratosphere?

We’re getting ready to launch in August and it’s time to select a new LEGO minifigure. We’ve narrowed it down to three options: Merida from the movie Brave, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, and Amelia Earhart, the first pilot to cross the Atlantic. We think that all of them were strong, empowering, girls. What’s your opinion about which of them should be on the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0? Let us know here!

We look forward to the final results!

Loki Lego Launcher 3.0: Into the Eclipse!

We plan to launch the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 this summer, hopefully in the path of the August 21 solar eclipse! We’ll be launching in East Wyoming hoping to capture footage of Earth during the eclipse. We’re also interested in what our solar data will show too.

We’re still thinking about which LEGO minifigure we want to include as our co-pilot. For the first launch we sent R2-D2, for the second launch we sent Rey, and now our criteria is for it to be a strong female who is recognizable and can be found in LEGO.

There will be more to come later. Stay tuned!