Lost Western research balloon found

Western's High Altitude Balloon team prepares balloon for launch. Photo courtesy of mediarelations.uwo.ca

Nearly a year after a research balloon launched into space by a team of Western University students was lost, the treasure trove of information about Earth’s stratosphere has been found.

The high-altitude balloon (HAB) was sent 20 km into space by students from the university’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) on May 29, 2018. It lifted off from River Place Park in Ayton and was supposed to touch back down roughly 70 kilometres away in the Belwood Lake Conservation Area in Fergus. However, the balloon never made it to the designated spot.

During the balloon’s descent, its GPS tracking system went dead, leaving the team with no way to know where it landed.

Students, with the help of members of London’s amateur radio club, scoured the potential crash site for the balloon for several weeks before calling off the search and declaring the project a loss.

For months they speculated about the whereabouts of their ill-fated scientific study. Then, just days before the one year anniversary of the launch, the deflated balloon was located with its orange data box. A farmer found it in his field last week, just 5 kilometres from the projected flight path.

The team of student scientists have since confirmed the balloon successfully measured radiation, carbon dioxide, ozone and ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the stratosphere, as well as captured some extraordinary video footage.

“I’m incredibly excited about this discovery,” CPSX Director Gordon Osinski said in a statement. “This kind of interdisciplinary and problem-based research is the way of the future and it’s been amazing to watch this group of students learn and grow throughout this process.”

The launch of a second, larger stratospheric balloon is being planned by the students, in collaboration with the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space-Canada and the Canadian Space Agency. That launch is set for August in Timmins.