Burlington is Headed to the Edge of Space (Again!)

20 for 2020
Near Space Balloon Launch

Alamance Makers Guild, STEAM Junction Makerspace, and Maker Faire Burlington are working with NC Near Space Research and other educational organizations and community partners to bring area schools, educational and youth organizations a semester long hands-on interactive and engaging STEM Project.

“20 for 2020” is an educational STEM project with the goal of having twenty educational organizations work to design, build, launch, track, recover, and analyze data from instrumented Near Space Balloons that will be launched from the 9th Annual Maker Faire Burlington in downtown Burlington on May 2nd 2020.  These balloons and their payloads may climb as high as 80,000 to 90,000 feet (three times higher than commercial jets fly) and may land 100 to 150 miles east of Burlington. During their flight they will take photographs, video, and gather scientific data about radiation, the atmosphere, and more.

Read on to learn more about getting your school/organization/youth-group involved in this project. Make sure to fill out the Balloon Launch Interest Form at the end of this article if you want to take part in our launch and to be included in future updates.

Projection vs Actual Flight
NL37 and NL38 Flight Data – Looking South

History of the Burlington Balloon Launch in Education

In 2015, Alamance Makers Guild asked long-time Maker Faire Burlington exhibitors NC Near Space Research to help our friends at Blessed Sacrament School of Burlington to work on a year-long STEM Project focused on Near Space Balloons. Paul Lowell of NC Near Space spoke to 7th and 8th graders at the School and worked with teachers and students as a mentor and guide for the project.

Students learned about the history of space flight, maps, weather, engineering, working with big-data, tying knots, ham radio, GPS, sustainability and renewable gasses, design thinking, and other STEM skills.

They also learned soft skills as they worked in teams, as they interacted with the public at the launch, and by working the tracking station at “Mission Control” at Maker Faire Burlington. 

Every student and teacher at Blessed Sacrament School was involved in this project. Students did all of the work to design, build, verify suitability for flight and FAA Regulations, launch, track, recover, and analyze data from two payloads attached to weather balloons filled with hydrogen gas. Adults guided the students as they progressed, filled the balloons with hydrogen gas, and drove the chase vehicles. 

Check out the following “highlights” video to get a feel for the Near Space Launch from 2015:

Mission with a Higher Cause

The goal is to inspire local students and help schools and youth organizations with big STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) projects that not only teach real world skills, but go above and beyond to bring attention to what they are capable of. We want to show all of North Carolina that Alamance County is a special place and is doing big things in Education! 

Mission Goals

  • At least 20 Schools and/or Youth Organizations Involved (K-12, public, charter, private, home-schools, youth organizations, libraries, University, and Community College participation) 
  • At least 20 Near Space Balloon Payloads Launched during the Maker Faire (weather permitting, if not then launched later at a rain date)
  • Use of renewable Hydrogen Gas for each balloon
  • Safety in all aspects of the project, follow all FAA and other flight rules
  • Inspire each and every individual involved in the project (students, teacher, parents, community supporters)
  • Maximum educational value from the project to teach as many STEM, design thinking, engineering, science skills, and soft-skills  as possible 
  • Additional educational value through creative writing, photography, videography, social media, blog posts, and artistic expression
  • Media coverage of the project (grass roots social media, local media, TV news, and more)
  • Local pride in the project and accomplishments, local value of our teachers, curriculum, and students efforts

Learn More: Watch below to see first-hand about how we worked with Blessed Sacrament School in 2015, and get a taste for how your school or youth organization can get involved in 2020.

Video 1 of 3: Year long project Kick-off. Paul Lowell of NC Near Space speaks to the 7th and 8th graders at Blessed Sacrament School:

Video 2 of 3: Launch Day video showing launch prep, launch, flight, and recovery. 

Video 3 of 3: “89,274 Feet – STEM, Makers, and Community” an award winning documentary video produced about the Balloon Launch with interviews of students, teachers, faculty, parents, sponsors, and supporters. (This video won 3rd Place in the 2015 Global Balloon Space Challenge and helped Blessed Sacrament School earn supplies and funding for future launches). 

Getting Involved

In order to participate and launch a balloon in 2020:

  • You must be a K-12 School (Public, Private, Magnet, Charter, or Home School Group), Community College, University, Library, or Youth Organization.
  • You should be located in North Carolina (prefer as many Alamance County organizations as possible, but will accept other organizations if you can work remotely).
  • You must attend at least one information session about this Balloon Launch Project in 2019 or very early 2020.
  • You must find funding for the expenses of your balloon launch (estimated costs between $150 and $350 plus things like gasoline/travel costs for parent chase vehicles.) Funding can be through school funds, grants, sponsorship, donations, PTA, etc. Alamance Makers Guild will try to make funding available for a limited number of applicants.
  • You must be able to bring your team (students, teachers, parents, volunteers) to the 2020 Maker Faire Burlington in early May as exhibitors, and launch from the Maker Faire (weather permitting).
  • You must send out a chase team to retrieve your balloon and payload.
  • You must share data, post photos and videos, to contribute back to the larger community.
  • You must agree to all safety rules, and an inspection of your balloon, rigging, and payload to insure that it is safe and conforms to FAA rules and regulations.

What you, as a teacher or organizer, will do (in addition to above)

  • Set up a time for a class visit, field trip, or to watch videos online (similar to Paul Lowell’s STREAM Friday video above) to instruct your students about this project.
  • Find funding and appropriate materials to construct your Near Space Balloon to FAA Regulations. STEAM Junction plans to make a materials kit available to help you order all the items you need in one order. Or can provide hard to find items as needed. We will include a full bill of materials. Expected costs are between $150 and $350 and can be more if you decide to do more elaborate science packages.
  • Devote class time (or extra-curricular or club time) to designing, building, and testing your payload.
  • Have an exhibit at Maker Faire Burlington 2020 for your school or organization. This will be your base of operations for the launch and your way to interact with the public throughout the day.
  • Have your balloon inspected for safety and for FAA compliance prior to launch.
  • Launch your balloon from the Maker Faire (around noon time, weather permitting).
  • Send out a tracking team (with student guides and adult drivers) that will stay in range of the balloon throughout its flight and recover the balloon after it lands (or crashes).
  • Gather data, images, video, and other information from your recovered balloon and share via the project page, social media, and by other means.
  • Follow up with your students about the project, and analyzed data.
  • Optional: Engage other groups from your school or organization. Record video, make a documentary, take photos, engage artists, etc.
  • Have fun and learn something!

Throughout the project Alamance Makers Guild, STEAM Junction Makerspace, NC Near Space Research, and others will be here to help answer questions, mentor, and guide you. Folks from Blessed Sacrament School with experience in this process may help out and give advice.

Still Interested?

If you have read this far and are interested in getting involved then please fill out the following form. We’ll use this information to learn about you, your organization, and your needs for this project. We will add you to a mailing list so that you’ll be the first to receive information and updates about this project. We promise not to share your information with third parties or anyone else.

Filling out this form is not a commitment to this project, but is your way to let us know that you are seriously interested in learning more.

Please fill out the Balloon Launch Interest form here.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for a future posts about this project. The next post will include more technical details about the materials needed to design and build your near space balloon. It will also detail the next steps and will include information about our next info session.

Thank you for your interest in this project! Let’s work together to take Burlington NC to Space again in 2020!

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