Old blog…

Hey, once in a while I see someone has followed the ohsballoonsat blog. That blog is still here for historical reference, but my current (but much neglected) blog is dophysics.wordpress.com . You can also find me on twitter at @jim_deane .

(The balloon sat still exists, by the way. If it does fly again, i’ll post here!)


Thermal testing underway

Two of the team were able to work again today, and spent a couple of hours after school finishing the last touches on the satellite to prepare it for testing and then launch.

At the moment, the satellite is in a refrigerator, taking data while being monitored by another data collection computer as well.  We’ll confirm things are working OK, and then it will be ready to fly.

Nearing the launch date…and launching seniors?

One of the challenges of supporting a group like this is that it’s hard to schedule time for six busy people to work together all at the same time.  It’s been hard, but nearly every week at least one or two students were able to come in to work on the satellite for some time after school.

The breaks and pauses, some long and some short, led to a two-steps-forward, one-step-back situation.  I think we’ve learned something about how to work as a team, and we’ve also learned that future projects like this will need a little better scheduling to keep things running smoothly.

Nevertheless, the OHS Balloon Sat team is nearly finished with their satellite, and I’m proud of the work they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished.  They’ve learned to solder electronics, to design and build an airframe, to program a microcontroller, and to put it all together into an unusual, functional piece of near-space equipment.  It will be exciting to see the fruit of the team’s labor with launch and the data recovery.

This past weekend, we saw two team members walk across the stage and receive their diplomas from Ottawa High School.  Shawn and Megan are now proud OHS alumni.  Congratulations!

In the final stretch…

In the final stretch...

OHS Balloon Sat team members work diligently to complete the satellite. In this photo, all internal components have been mounted and the sensor swap-out location is complete (but empty). The chassis was later completely covered in Kapton tape for strength and some temperature regulation.

Nearing completion

Nearing completion

OHS Balloon Sat team members work diligently to complete the satellite.

Flight computer test!

Our lead programmers learned the ins and outs of using the Microchip microcontroller programming environment, and we can happily report that our flight computer has passed the first operational tests.  We’re computing!

Next up:  sensor interfacing to read some data.

Also underway right now–preliminary design tests on the chassis.  Our team members want to try a unique configuration to get the photographs they want…they’re problem solving to make that happen.


Yahoo Group

For students participating in the study (along with teachers, mentors, and others helping with the project), there is a Yahoo Group for questions/answers/discussions. If you search for “balloonsatstudy” or possibly “BalloonSat_Research” you should find the group. If you have difficulty, please email me or stop by and I’ll help you find the group.

Week 1: Survey and Opening the Kit

One of the unusual facets of running a program that is part of a dissertation research project is that there is paperwork to be done.  In this case, students interested in the program need a signed permission (or ‘informed consent’) form for the university.  After returning permission forms, students then take a simple survey, called the TOSRA — the Test of Science Related Attitudes.  This is the meat of Mr. Verhage’s project, which will help determine whether participating as part of the balloon satellite build team influences peoples’ attitudes toward science, scientists, and science careers.

Our build team completed their permission forms and surveys, and on Thursday, January 26 we “broke the seal” on the BalloonSat kit.  (By the way, similar kits called “Balloon Sat Mini” are available from Mr. Verhage’s Nearsys products website.)

The first after-school session included familiarizing the build team with the new workzone (makerzone, hackerspace) I created in my classroom, including the basic tools and equipment we have at our disposal.  We also talked a bit about safety, soldering, the components in the kit, and the phases we will go through in our build process.

Our meeting time was limited, so we re-packaged our build kit and scheduled our next meeting–Tuesday, January 31.

Preamble: Strange links to interesting places.

In the fall of 2009 I was starting my fourth year of teaching physics at Ottawa High School.  My wife Diana was a library assistant at the local library, and she sent me a message about an event happening at the Topeka Public Library (TSCPL), a presentation by someone billed as “The Street Astronomer”.

The presentation was an interesting tour of the night sky, aimed mainly to a younger audience (but still quite enjoyable as an adult).  It turns out that The Street Astronomer is L. Paul Verhage, an astronomy enthusiast, educator, and an education Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas.  We chatted briefly after his presentation, and I began following his Twitter feed and blog.

I periodically saw updates on his Twitter feed and blog, but noticed sometime in early 2011 that his updates had been slow for some time.  I visited his webpage and found a notice–he was looking for teachers who could organize a team of students to build a balloon satellite as part of his dissertation research.  I sent an email immediately inquiring about the project, and once he described it, I said “we’re in!”

The build window was scheduled to begin in the Spring 2012 semester, so at our beginning-of-the-year faculty meeting, I announced the plan to put together a balloon satellite build team to take advantage of this great opportunity.

In the following months, students periodically heard about the project, and several asked how to get involved.  After receiving information from Mr. Verhage in December, I made the formal announcement to the students that it was time to sign up.  Eighteen interested students showed up at my door over the next few days, and six were chosen to be the official build team.

Hello OHS Balloon Satellite fans!

Welcome to the OHS Balloon Satellite group webpage.  This group of students at OHS is building a near-space balloon satellite as part of a University of Kansas researcher’s project on science education.

Follow along with future posts for information on how this group came to be, our progress, and ultimately our flight information and data report.