High School Students Get Their Camera Back From Space

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Image via The DaedalusImage via The Daedalus

Image via The Daedalus

A few months ago Todd Stowe, a teacher at Beaufort High School in Beaufort, SC dropped me an email asking me about some plans I’d mentioned way back for a possible camera space launch. Well, those plans had morphed into our involvement with the MoonBots Challenge, but Todd told me about his own class project to try the same camera/balloon/space pictures project that was in the planning. Just this weekend, I heard back from Todd with a declaration of success:

The fill went well, packed the capsules and checked the electronics. The balloon took off quickly. There was some cloud cover and the balloon was into it and out of sight in a few minutes. We launched it from a high school in Waynesboro. They were having a track meet and got some funny looks.

We followed the transmission from Waynesboro to Walterboro. A second team left directly from Beaufort and we met them in Walterboro. We stopped getting a signal from the ham transmitter at about 3,000 feet…That was expected. But what was not expected was the beacon transmitter stopped as well. That was not expected. We spent two hours looking Saturday but we had to get the students back to Beaufort.

What we were position reports. We had locations from 9,000 feet, 6,000 and 3,000.. So you’d think we should be able to figure the touchdown spot. I figured the direction and distance and went back on May 2. Easy right? I thought so too…that is, until I spent another two hours looking. The problem is that the area was clear-cut a year or two ago and replanted with pine trees. So there are 15 foot pine trees every few feet, chest high grasses and briars. Lots of briars. Did I mention there was a butt-load of briars? The capsules and parachute could literally have been 15 feet away from you and you might not see it.

Lex Brown has a son at Beaufort High. Lex is also a Marine aviator with his own personal aircraft. He was going to take me up today (May 8) in hopes of seeing the bright orange parachute and capsules from the air. That was the plan until I got a call from a Colleton County Sherriff Friday night. It seems something strange had come down in a man’s yard and he didn’t know what it was but wanted them to come get it. It turns out, the capsules came down and hit the corner of his house…kinda explains why we lost the signal. His house was also not where we were looking. We were looking on the right hand side of the road, a hundred yards or so down from his house which was on the left side. I met Investigator Ray Taylor outside his office in Walterboro at about 9:30 Friday night. He said Deputy Tommy Walker and Deputy Marshall Taylor of the Colleton County Sherriff’s Office had answered the call. When I met Investigator Taylor he handed over everything, camera, capsules, transmitters, parachute and what was left of the balloon (remember, it burst). The impact broke the battery case for the ham transmitter. I’m not sure (yet) why the beacon transmitter stopped. But the camera was in perfect working order. I had an “If found, please call” sign on each capsule but the rain from a few days ago had washed the ink off (damn inkjet printer). Good thing for us, one of the pictures captured by the camera before the launch had my truck in the background. Investigator Taylor found me by tracking my tag.

I was off on the timing of the photos. The camera has an internal timer. It can take 1,000 photos as close as 10 seconds apart. The camera was the first thing the students turn on so we got about 20-30 minutes of photos before the capsule was airborne. We did get pictures all the way up to 106,502 feet and photos just as it started to descend but it hit the 1,000 limit there. The photos from the first launch, second launch and recovered photos are online at www.thetalon.smugmug.com/misc/space. You can see a little of the orange capsule in the upper left and it appears that an ice crystal formed on the lens in some of the pictures but the ones at the upper altitudes are clear.

One teacher from BHS went (me) and one IT Technician, Joe Tokar. Four students from BHS went, Nelson Wells (blue jersey with the number 11 on it), Donnie Groff (gray t-shirt), Eva McCarthy (black t-shirt) and Sofia Ferrara (white shirt with pink sleeves and wearing glasses). All except Donnie are students in my digital photography class at Beaufort High. Donnie is in my yearbook class. Two other students went as well, my daughter Christy Stowe (Lady’s Island Elem School) and Mr. Tokar’s son, Alex Tokar, who attends Beaufort Middle.

Three people from the Beaufort Radio Amateur Group manned the recovery team. They were Mike Sinisi (call sign KB1CTC), Dave Jennings (call sign N2EIO) and Paul Grayce (call sign K3LLH). If you quote them PLEASE use their call signs as well. It’s a big deal to them. Paul Grace was an IMMENSE help. He designed the beacon transmitter as well as put up with my numerous questions (I’m good with photography but VERY new to ham radio and electronics).

Congratulations to Todd and all the students who took part in this awesome project!

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