SAN ANTONIO – On a cold Sunday morning in Spring Branch, University of Texas at San Antonio physics students gathered for an important launch.
"We have a large balloon that we are going to inflate with helium,” said Dale Bobar, a junior and member of the Society of Physics Students. "We know we're going to have extremely low temperatures, about minus 50 degrees Celsius.”
Add in some extremely low pressure and you have the exact conditions these students are looking for. Their payload, attached to the balloon, is designed to conduct experiments 100,000 feet above the earth’s curved surface.
"To put it into perspective as to how high we are flying, we're going to be flying about to two to three miles higher than the SR-71 spy plane,” explained Bryan Tobias, the mentor for the group.
As for what is on board: balloons filled with various gasses, sensors and plant seeds. There were even some seemingly off items including, orange juice, yeast and a marshmallow. All of it was part of the experiment to see reactions in an extreme environment.
"We're going to be testing how the PH of orange juice changes,” added Seth Pritchard, a senior and member of the Society of Physics Students.
A marshmallow also made it on board, which a GoPro later captured expanding in the near-vacuum of the earth’s upper atmosphere.
"It is not stuff they would find in any textbook. There’s a little bit of real world stuff to it,” Tobias said.
It was not all about earth, though.
"Inside the bag, along with the flight computer, we have sensors that measure radiation flux,” Pritchard said.
During the flight, the students were able to detect a solar flare that impacted the earth.
Three and half hours into the flight, the balloon would burst, as it reached its maximum height. With the aid of a parachute, the payload would take 20 minutes to fall back to earth, eventually landing near Gonzales.
The group is planning another series of launches for next spring.