Society for the Exploration and Development of Space to launch weather balloon in April

By Delaney Vetter | March 6, 2017 8:22pm


Mikayla Whiteaker and Bradley Swendseid hold up their newly-acquired weather balloon.

by Julia Cramer / The Beacon

The Society for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) is gearing up for its biggest project to date: The launch of a weather balloon. It will be complete with a shuttle to house the balloon, a GPS tracker to gather location data and a GoPro to film the assent.

Weather balloons can be used to measure atmospheric pressure, wind speed, temperature and humidity.

SEDS is a national organization and Club President Bradley Swendseid, along with Vice President Mikayla Whiteaker, are running the UP chapter in its second year on campus. “Space Club” - as they refer to it - has about thirty members but it varies depending on time of year.

“The focus of the club is more about not just learning about astronomy, but learning about humans in space or researching other planets,” Swendseid, a senior, said.

The weather balloon is very exciting for SEDS, Swendseid says. It’s the first project where the club will be able to reach these heights - literally. The weather balloon can reach up to 100,000 feet.

The group will build the shuttle to house the balloon, and inside they will also build a space for a GoPro camera.

“(The GoPro) will be able to film the entire ascent all the way up until it can see through the stratosphere and into space a bit,” Swendseid said. “We’ll be able to clearly see the curve of the Earth.”

Unfortunately, launching the balloon is not as easy as tying on a GoPro, filling the balloon and sending it on its way. It requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work.

The supplies for the weather balloon are very costly; the club requested $3,945 in funding from ASUP this semester, and were granted $1,840. SEDS decided not to use hydrogen for its first launch because it is more dangerous, so they will be using helium, which is more expensive and will be difficult to get in large quantities, but it is safer, especially since the balloon will reach the size of “two sumo wrestlers,” Swendseid says.

SEDS is currently working to see if they can build the GPS tracker, and a gyroscope to hold the camera steady. Even after all the work is done, the club has to contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make sure they are clear to launch and if there are any time or location parameters they need to follow.

SEDS estimates that the launch will be in the first week of April. And if all goes well with the FAA, they hope to launch outside of Shiley in the Academic Quad, and they’re hoping to get a big crowd.

Even though the faculty advisor, Professor Kenneth Lulay, is a member of the engineering department, that doesn’t mean students must be engineers to join. Swendseid is a history major and Whiteaker is a computer science and physics double major.

“I really had a passion for space,” Swendseid, who joined the club last year, said. “I was really interested in it and this club gets to do a lot of cool stuff with it.”

SEDS’ bimonthly meetings always include an activity or project, including building small rockets, trips to OMSI and planning for the weather balloon launch.

If you are interested in learning more about SEDS at UP or joining the club, email or visit their Facebook page.