UNF, UCF students does weather balloon test launch for national NASA project

Local college students are helping NASA collect data by using a high altitude weather balloon.

It is a part of a national project.

Sunday morning, students from UNF and UCF did a test launch on UNF’s campus ahead of the annular solar eclipse in October.

“Seeing that in the air is the culmination of a lot of hard work between students, faculty, staff, and NASA’s funding,” said Dustin Leonard, who is the launch director and UNF student studying electrical engineering. “It has made an impact. It is a huge achievement. There is a lot of time in preparation, money in manpower that goes into this.”

50 colleges are participating in a national project through NASA to research gravity waves.

“Gravity waves we believe are basically isolations in the upper atmosphere,” Leonard said. “It is far above where our weather actively happens, but we believe it has drastic and packs on the weather here that we live in. If we can understand more about gravity waves, where they come from, why they happen, then we can tell more about the atmospheric layer that we live in.”

The practice flight Sunday lifted off shortly before 10 a.m. and lasted a little less than 45 minutes.

During that launch, the students tested all of the communication systems between the software on the balloon and the command center off site. They wanted to ensure everything was operating correctly, including the scientific payloads attached which allow the data to be gathered.

The preparation for this flight included inflating the balloon with helium, rigging the flight line and controlling the flight’s path. It was tethered by orange rope. The balloon gives the public a live 360 view of what will happen during a solar eclipse.

Jackie Reilly is a part of the team from UCF.

“It is just a big win,” she said of the successful test launch. “Coming out you never know what is going to happen. Anything can go wrong.”

Everything went according to plan this time. The team is preparing for the real deal on Oct. 14th for the annular solar eclipse where they will launch in Texas.

An annular solar eclipse is when the moon appears slightly smaller than the sun, so it cannot block the entire disk.

The result is what looks like a ring of fire, which is visible in eight states between Oregon and Texas.

The group from UNF and UCF is proud to be a part of the effort.

“It is also nice to know that everyone is important,” Reilly said. “Everybody is responsible and taking care of their part and you can trust everybody.”

“To be a small part of that is inspirational,” Leonard said. “It has potential impact for all of humanity.”

The team is expected to be a part of another launch happening on Apri 8, 2024 for the total solar eclipse.

That is when the moon completely covers the face of the sun. A specific location of where that weather balloon launch will happen is still being discussed.

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