WSU Weather Balloon Will Take Flight
HARBOR employs a latex, helium-filled atmospheric weather balloon that travels to the edge of outer space — the highest flight reached 110,718 feet above sea level — gathering scientific measurements from Earth’s atmosphere along the way. Balloon systems are valuable tools for understanding Earth’s climate and weather systems at altitudes not attainable by aircraft (which fly too low) and spacecraft (which orbit too high). They also promote space-based learning for future scientists, physicists and engineers.
The flight coincides with the Global Space Balloon Challenge, an initiative to encourage people to build their own space hardware and to promote the spirit of international STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)collaboration. Over a single weekend, teams across the world will launch balloons, recover them and share the photos and data they have collected.
HARBOR carries with it a multi-sensor array (MSA), a device that measures air pressure, temperature, acceleration, the strength of magnetic fields, ozone concentration, and more. The MSA on this flight has been updated to allow for increased flexibility and data-collecting power, with the goal of providing improved measurements of Earth’s atmosphere and better understanding of metropolitan inversions. With the newly upgraded MSA, one of HARBOR’s next goals is to create the sensor to measure pollutants such as gases and aerosols. All of the hardware is designed or altered for flight by a team of WSU physics, electronics engineering and electronics engineering technology students.
John Sohl, HARBOR program director and WSU physics professor, explains that HARBOR is a goal-oriented, mission-based program styled after NASA flights. Students must work in teams, with budget, time, mass and power limits. “It is a very ‘real-world’ experience for future scientists and engineers,” he said. “Industry employers generally prefer graduates who have hands-on experience, especially in a teamwork-style project.”
WSU electronics engineering major Michael Petersen is an aerospace enthusiast who has been involved in the HARBOR program for three years. He and two other electronics engineering students spent more than 1,000 hours updating the MSA as part of an undergraduate research project. For Petersen, HARBOR presented numerous learning opportunities, and even opened the door to an internship at a leading technology company.
“We had to learn to build our own circuit boards, write our own computer programs, design our own circuits, apply for grants and manage a project,” said Petersen. “For me, this has been the most productive academic activity I’ve ever been involved in — it has been a truly amazing experience.”
A final weather confirmation will be made before 9 at p.m. and will be announced on the harbor website:harbor.weber.edu. Those interested can follow the flight live at planet.weber.edu/harbor/
Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.
EE Students in the News(KSL News aired on March 31, 2014)
Note: This project included Michael Petersen, Wes Mahurin and Jenifer Stoddard)
OGDEN — Students at Weber State University say they've found a new and improved way to track air pollution.
Instead of getting data from fixed areas in the state, their system can gather information specific to a neighborhood.
"Utah air is notoriously dirty,” said Michael Petersen, an electronics engineering major at Weber State. "We're not making less pollution every year; we're making more, so the problem's only going to get worse."
Petersen sees firsthand how thick, muggy air affects his family.
"I have four sons,” he said. “They all have asthma, and there are certain days when they can't go outside and play."
That's why Petersen was more than happy to help develop a small box of circuits called a multisensor array, or MSA. It’s a small data-logging computer that weighs less than a pound and can run on a battery for five to six hours.
The idea is to get their sensors up on the edge of space using high-altitude weather balloons to help gather real-time data during some of Utah's worst pollution days.
“It takes measurements — things like accelerations, gyroscopic motions, magnetic fields, temperatures, pressure, humidity, things like that,” he said. “The (Environmental Protection Agency) uses a gravimetric measuring method, which uses filters, and they average those over time. What’s nice about this is we’re going to have real-time data, and it’s light enough that we can fly it on a balloon.”
The MSA has already made several trips up above the pollution.
"We can learn about how the particulates, and the aerosols and the gases — you know, the pollutants that we generate — how they behave as a function of altitude,” he said.
The project is part of the High Altitude Reconnaissance Balloon for Outreach and Research program, or HARBOR, a program WSU professor John Sohl started seven years ago.
"It's been very exciting to me as a professor, because I've watched my students evolve from absolutely nothing to a very robust and very useful package that will improve, hopefully, our quality of lives,” Sohl said.
The MSA won't replace systems the Division of Air Quality uses, which are fixed in place, but Sohl says the MSA can add to it.
“We can go to a school and measure right at the school,” he said. “We can go to the Great Salt Lake and see what’s happening at the Great Salt Lake. We can measure pollution anywhere we want to because it’s a mobile platform.”
The data won’t have the precision as the fixed systems, but "some data is better than no data," Sohl said.
Students now are working on packing even more sensors into the array before putting more of balloons into the sky.
"We can get a more broad picture of what's going on with our pollution,” Petersen said.
They're currently working on a partnership with the Division of Air Quality and the University of Utah atmospheric sciences group to put the device to practical use along the Wasatch Front.
Read more at http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=29290171#mRGpAgLxzywEFo6H.99