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AMS STEM students soar into space

June 5, 2014
By J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

On May 28, AMS students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes of Jason Freudenberg and Danielle Chine headed outdoors to send a balloon to space, or close to it. The launch was a success and now students are looking over data from cameras and an on board system.

The whole story goes back to April, when the AMS STEM classes competed in the Cleveland Gravity Challenge for middle school soap box derby cars. The AMS car placed first, and one of the sponsors was High Altitude Science, a company that is involved with STEM activities. That sponsored AMS car took first place in Cleveland and second place in the Akron Soap Box Derby. With the wins also came a $500 gift certificate that could be used to purchase one of the scientific weather balloons from the company in Colorado. The balloon kits cost $750 and have the ability to soar to the edge of space.

The balloon was purchased, and after assembly and programming in the classroom, it was ready for launch.

Article Photos

Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
AMS students Jackson Belknap and Hannah Rosser watch as student Mike Ferree holds the nylon balloon and AMS STEM teachers Danielle Chine and Jason Freudenberg begin the filling process.

''It was perfect for us since we are doing a unit about flight in space in the classroom,'' Freudenberg said.

The balloon package consisted of a triangle with three cameras and a data collector. It senses and records altitude, wind speed and temperature. The cameras are placed in different directions. One is focused on the balloon itself, one is pointed straight ahead, and a third is focused at the ground.

One small addition that the AMS team added was a small spaceship about three inches long that was made on the school's 3D printer. Inside, students placed a cutout of Snoopy. The goal was to photograph it in space.

Prior to launch, eight selected students assisted with all the prep work. The triangle was secured to a parachute, and the parachute had strings that had to be fastened to the latex balloon.

Freudenberg slowly filled the balloon with helium to a diameter of close to 10 feet. At that point, it had to be checked to see what kind of pull it had. This was done using a special gauge attached to the balloon to see how much weight it could lift. Once the proper number was reached, the balloon was secured to the parachute and payload.

A quick check of the sky for airplanes and the balloon was launched. In no time, it climbed into the clouds and disappeared. While students could not see it above the clouds, AMS Principal Jim Penk and a handful of students took the small Austintown van/bus and headed out.

The balloon payload included a tracking device that sent out a beep every 10 minutes. Using a GPS tracking device, Penk followed the path of the balloon as it continued to rise.

''The balloon reached about 110,000 feet,'' Freudenberg said on Friday. ''That was over 20 miles high into near space.''

The balloon went as high as was expected and took some great photos while collecting data. As it reached the threshold of space, the balloon's life came to an end. It burst, and the weight of the payload caused the parachute to deploy and carry the cameras and equipment safely back to terra firma.

Penk and his team located the equipment in a tree on the edge of a cow pasture just east of New Brighton, Pa. The equipment was brought back to AMS, where students can take the data and apply it to their STEM lessons.

''We are still going through the video and data of altitude, pressure, wind speed and temperature,'' Freudenberg said. ''We will be making video to put on our website with the footage from the three cameras that were on board.''

He said the payload consisted of three video cameras; a SPOT GPS tracking device; and a flight computer that recorded time, longitude and latitude, temperature, wind, pressure and altitude.

''We will use the data to track different wind speeds and temperature in different layers of the atmosphere, plotting longitude and latitude, and comparing our simulated flight paths we did the day before with the actual GPS tracking data that we received every 10 minutes during the day,'' Freudenberg said. ''It was -80 degrees Fahrenheit for a little while up there.''

The balloon project was an extension of a STEM unit on flight and space that the eighth graders are finishing up. This experiment allows them to apply some of the things they have learned in the classroom and see it first hand.

If anyone were to say the AMS STEM students have their heads in the clouds, they are probably correct.



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