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!

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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!

Published in Scholastic Magazine

We loved reading Scholastic and Ranger Rick and Highlights and other magazines like that in our early elementary grades.  So you can imagine how excited we were when Scholastic contacted us and told us they would like to publish our project in their SuperScience magazine.

We did an interview with them and answered a few questions through e-mail.  Dad sent them a few photos that they asked for.  Then, they turned our project into a learning unit in their November 2016 SuperScience article.  They wrote it using language that was easier for younger kids to understand.  They also had an Investigate It! sidebar, and an online skills sheet, and they also linked to our video online as well.

It was really cool to be in a magazine that we had read for many years.  Thanks Scholastic!

Appearing in President Obama’s Issue of WIRED Magazine

President Obama is guest editing the November issue of WIRED magazine. We are very excited because he specifically asked for us to appear in it. We are honored to be asked and we are so grateful that he even remembered who we were.

A few weeks ago, we set up a Skype interview with Elise Craig, a writer for WIRED.  We enjoyed talking to her about our project. WIRED also brought us to New York to get our pictures taken for the magazine by a professional photographer named Platon. He has taken pictures of leaders from all over the world, which was amazing. We had to keep it all secret because we weren’t allowed to give away the surprise about the President being a guest editor.

When we got to the studio, there were people there who were helping with the photo shoot. They included a really nice guy who was in charge of hair and makeup, a producer, and a photographer assistant.  It was an interesting experience because we’ve never had a professional photo shoot before.

Platon was really nice to us and he asked us to do different poses for the pictures.  It was really fun, but it was hard not to smile and it was also hard to hold a pose for so long.

The digital version of the WIRED issue came out today, but the print version will come out next week.  We subscribe to the magazine, so we can’t wait to see the issue!

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Barack Obama: Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive