MSU Students Launch Camera Loaded Weather Balloon

Posted at 6:40 PM, Jun 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-01 08:05:56-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A handful of Michigan State University students left the classroom on Sunday to launch a weather/space balloon in Grand Rapids. The goal was to outfit the balloon with five high-definition cameras and shoot the ascent from every angle.

InterMet Systems provided the actual weather balloon with a device (radiosonde) that takes meteorological data and observations and transmits them back to earth. The idea was to outfit three onboard cameras covering a 360 degree span in all directions, point another one upward looking at the balloon itself, and yet another on the bottom looking down. The group is made up of film makers, journalism, and broadcast journalism students.

They’re actually making a behind the scenes documentary, but hope to take the completed footage and place it in to an exhibit at the children’s museum in Lansing so everyone can get an idea what it’s like to ascend thousands of feet in to the atmosphere. The balloon was also equipped with a GPS unit so it could be tracked with a separate mobile unit in a car and recovered.

InterMet Systems was actually plotting the balloon’s location on a map supplied by Google Earth as it rose higher and higher and transmitted weather observations. It eventually rose through the atmosphere and in to the stratosphere 105,000 feet above the surface. The attached photo shows what it looked like at that level…complete with the Spartan logo high above the planet!

It was recovered near Holland about 35 feet off the ground as it landed in a tree. Typically what happens with these balloons is as they rise higher and higher, eventually the balloon bursts and a parachute is deployed so the equipment falls gently back to earth. In this case the camera equipment costs about $1500.00 and needed to be recovered for future use and to obtain the video. This was the second attempt by the group to perform the experiment. The first time they launched in the Detroit area, but were unable to recover the balloon and the equipment since it landed in Lake Erie. The group coordinated with the Ford Airport before the launch so as not to disrupt air travel.

The National Weather Service launches about 800 weather balloons around the country each day for upper air data and weather observations. They typically do not have cameras attached to theirs and only occasionally recover them. The NWS usually includes a self-addressed mailer back to them if the radiosonde is found. It helps offset the cost.