Air Force Academy rocket club flies high after weather balloon launch reaches 108,000 feet | Military

We’re off into the wild blue there, climbing high into the sun…

No, it wasn’t the first verse of the Air Force song heard loud and clear at Falcon Stadium, but a successful launch of a weather balloon wearing the superintendent’s flight cap more than 20 miles above the sea. And, yes, the cheers echoed around the Air Force Academy campus.

The freshman prank — also known as the spirit mission — was meant to boost the morale of the cadets.

“Other cadets were saying it was one of the coolest things they’d ever seen for a spiritual mission,” said Matthew Sharkey, an aerospace engineering student from Shrewsbury, Pa. photo and video responsibilities.

Fellow freshman John Arne, an aeronautical engineering student from Lincolnshire, Illinois, said videos and photos of the launch were a hit with alumni on social media.

The Air Force Academy superintendent’s flight cap soars more than 20 miles above the sea via a weather balloon launched by cadets from the Blue Horizon rocket club on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

“Reading the comments on some of the Instagram and Facebook posts, the graduates commented, ‘This is what we expect from some of the brightest cadets. So it’s cool to set a bar for future spiritual missions,” Arne said.

The academy – which produces officers for the air and space forces – is known for its quality academic and military training. The rigor is often more than enough to keep the approximately 4,000 cadets busy. But some choose to participate in extracurricular activities.

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Shepherd Kruse, a young astronautical engineering student from Colorado Springs, started Blue Horizon, the academy’s cadet-run experimental rocket club, when he was a freshman. With over 30 active participants, the club has both a competition team and a hybrid team that builds rockets.

“The goal behind Blue Horizon was to take some of the most talented cadets…put them in a room and take the talents that they have…and build some really cool projects and do some really cool stuff,” said Kruse.

The scientific reason behind the launch of a weather balloon earlier this month was to test a cheaper and lighter GPS tracking system designed by cadets.

The funny reason was that “we all try to throw things as high as possible…and that creates inspiration,” Kruse said.

The balloon peaked at 108,000 feet, 28,000 feet higher than any of Kruse’s six high school launches.

Air Force Academy Rocket Club

Cadets Matthew Sharkey, (left to right) Simon Gott, Gunnar Gott, Shepherd Kruse, Junhyung Park, John Arne and Ethan Lefebvre are part of the Air Force Academy’s rocket club, Blue Horizon. Kruse, a junior from Colorado Springs, started the caddy-run club as a rookie.

The 6 ½-foot-wide balloon soared at more than 800 feet per minute for two hours, expanding about 30 feet while ascending into the stratosphere. The video shows Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark’s flight cap, adorned with three twinkling stars, in front of a bright blue line clearly marking the curvature of the Earth with a deep black sky above.

“As the balloon rises, the gas inside the balloon expands as the atmospheric pressure surrounding the balloon drops,” according to NASA. “The atmosphere is 100 to 200 times less dense at float altitudes than on the ground.”

The payload – in the shape of an equilateral pyramid, consisting of Clark’s cap, a GPS tracker and several GoPro cameras recording both video and photos – was attached directly under the parachute, which was attached under the balloon. .

Students from last year’s freshman class had designed and built a device for this same project but couldn’t launch it because they didn’t have enough helium. Thus, the launch waited for the participants of the class of 2025, who redesigned the payload.

Air Force Academy Rocket Club

A weather balloon soars over Colorado Springs while wearing squadron patches of Air Force Academy cadets who are members of the Blue Horizon Rocket Club Thursday, March 3, 2022.

“We worked with triangular-based carbon fiber rods and 3D-printed joints to make them fit really well,” said Gunnar Gott, a freshman electrical and computer engineering student from San Diego. “We added camera mounts to make sure we got good photos and videos.”

One camera took photos every 10 seconds while another recorded video of the superintendent’s hat. Another looked up at the ball while the last looked straight down.

The cadets, who represent several different majors and squadrons, made sure to attach several squadron patches for the flight.

Simon Gott, Gunnar Gott’s younger brother with the same major and hometown, said the band learned a lot.

“We understood that an equilateral pyramid was not as we originally assumed, with all angles being 60 degrees,” he said. “We made some stupid mistakes, but it was fun to learn from. We came together on that and took it down quickly.

The cadets launched the balloon – which is often used by meteorologists to help with weather forecasts – at 7 a.m. on March 3 before heading to class.

Arne said it was cool to sit in class and follow the movements of the ball live, thanks to fellow freshmen Ethan Lefebvre and Junhyung Park, who worked on the electronic architecture.

Lefebvre, a computer science student from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, built a prototype website with a script that extracts flight data and presents it in a user-friendly way.

“Knowing that people were counting on me helped me learn a lot faster,” Lefebvre said.

Park, an electrical and computer engineering specialist from Montgomery, Alabama, was praised by his fellow cadets for his additions to the team.

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“Given the cost of using the actual search sensors used in normal weather balloon launches, in order to make this cheaper and much lighter, we are using a feather board which has data transmission capability with a LoRaWAN , a technology that uses low power consumption but has a wide range of data transmission.

“It powers the GPS sensor and temperature sensor and sends live latitude, longitude, and temperature data to the user. Ethan and I have developed an app that displays this data in a user-friendly way.

“Ethan and I had a lot of failures when developing the electronic architecture. It’s not the kind of experience you can get in the classroom. It can only be done if you have the desire to do it. and motivation to achieve a certain goal. I thought the process of going through failure was valuable.

Once the balloon burst, it only took about 20 minutes before it hit the ground.

“It was a lot quicker than you would have hoped,” Kruse said.

“The atmosphere is so thin up there that the parachute didn’t catch the air. Top speeds were over 400 mph, so close to the speed of a jet airliner. As it descended to Earth, the air became thicker and that’s when it slowed down to about 25 mph by the time it hit the ground.

He said he averaged around 60 mph for much of the descent.

Kruse explained that the cap was pulled over pieces of cardboard that were shaped to act like a hook, ensuring the base commander’s hat wouldn’t miss.

After lessons ended and the sun set, four cadets boarded a vehicle and drove more than 70 miles southeast to Crowley County to retrieve the payload.

“When we were driving there, we were like, ‘Man, are we going to come across an absolute mess of everything we’ve done or is this going to be untouched? “Said Gunnar Gott.

The group traveled 8 miles through the cactus-infested landscape at night before locating the payload with their flashlights.

The cap and everything else was there. The exterior frame was not damaged.

“That’s what we hoped to achieve and we were able to exceed our expectations,” said Gunnar Gott.

The club’s mentor, Major David Hensley, an instructor in the electrical and computer engineering department, is impressed with the dedication shown by the cadets.

“They’re not just street smart; they’re smart when it comes to books,” Hensley said. “They follow their studies, their military training and all their other obligations.

“I really like to see the learning that happens with the cadets. They are all really sharp.

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