Louisiana Space Grant Teams Up with NASA to Livestream Total Solar Eclipse
Eclipse Ballooning Project will offer the first ever high-altitude live broadcast of a total solar eclipse
BATON ROUGE – A team of students and faculty from the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium,
LaSPACE, led by LSU and including Delgado Community College, or DCC; Louisiana Tech
University, or LaTech; and McNeese State University, or MSU, will launch two high-altitude
balloons on Aug. 21 as part of a NASA-sponsored project to live-stream aerial video
footage of the “Great American Eclipse.”
As part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, involving 55 teams from across the country, one balloon flight string will feature a video camera payload to live-stream footage of the total solar eclipse, in which the moon will entirely block the sun for approximately 2 minutes on a path progressing from the Pacific coast in Oregon at 10:17 a.m. PCT to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina at 2:47 p.m. EST. Live footage will be available for public viewing on NASA’s website, https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/. The second balloon string will carry experiments developed over the past year by DCC, LaTech and MSU students to investigate changes in the high altitude environment as the moon covers the sun.
Each flight string is carried to the edge of space, up to an altitude of 100,000 feet, by a roughly 8-foot-tall, helium-filled balloon, which is then released, allowing the payloads to parachute safely back to Earth. In addition to the video camera and student experiments, the flight strings will include Automated Position Reporting Systems, or APRS, to live track the balloon during flight and assist in post-flight recovery of the payloads; an iridium modem to allow the national project director to track each of the 55 project team flights across the path of totality; an automated cut-down system; and an additional video camera to record the entire flight.
Both flights will be conducted and managed by the LSU team. Launch will be at approximately noon CST on Aug. 21 from the Southern Illinois University, or SIU, football stadium in Carbondale, Ill. SIU was selected as the launch site by LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Professor and Director of LaSPACE Greg Guzik in fall 2016.
“I chose SIU because Carbondale, Ill. is very near the point of maximum total eclipse duration and the eclipse team at SIU has been extremely supportive of our needs and responsive to our requirements. Further, we have subsequently learned that NASA, the BBC and other high-visibility organizations plan to use SIU as their central site for eclipse coverage, so we will be in a ‘hot bed’ of activity,” Guzik said.
The NASA-sponsored project, which is led by the Montana Space Grant Consortium, or MSGC, at Montana State University, has been years in the making. According to MSGC Director Angela Des Jardins, the project marks the first time that high-altitude video footage of a total solar eclipse has been broadcast live.
“We’re excited to provide a unique perspective of this rare phenomenon,” Des Jardins said. “The live-stream video will show the curvature of the planet, the blackness of space and the whole of the moon’s shadow crossing the Earth during the eclipse.”
The Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University initiated the project in 2014. The project is sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and NASA’s Space Grant program, a national network that includes more than 900 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers and state and local agencies belonging to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
From early on, several other Space Grant Consortia have supported MSGC in the development and implementation of this national project. Faculty, staff and students from LaSPACE / LSU assisted in the development and testing of the national payload, train the trainer workshops, full-scale workshops and regular trouble-shooting telecons.
The Louisiana Space Grant Consortium at LSU has a long and impressive history with
running scientific ballooning programs for college students. Such programs are devoted
to developing and supporting efforts that provide students with a realistic simulation
of work within an aerospace project and skills that are applicable throughout their
careers. Such hands-on, experiential projects are valued by the students and are designed
to encourage them to pursue an aerospace-related STEM career. Long-standing NASA-funded
programs in this area are the state-wide student ballooning research program, Louisiana
Aerospace Catalyst Experiences for Students, or LaACES, and the national High Altitude
Student Platform, or HASP, program. LaSPACE has also secured NASA funding for two
special two-year programs, Launching Louisiana Community College Students into STEM,
or LLCCSS, as well as an Undergraduate Student Instrument Project, or USIP, award
at LSU for Correlation of Terrestrial gamma flashes, Electric fields, and Lightning
Strikes, or COTEL, in thunderstorms using networked balloon payloads developed by
university and college students.
The LaACES program, for LaSPACE campus affiliates, usually involves a full academic year of work. During the first semester, a series of lectures and hands-on activities help build student skills in basic electronics, sensor interfacing, real-time programming, mechanical development and project management. The second semester is then devoted to applying these skills to the design, development, fabrication and flight of a small, approximately 500-gram balloon payload. The payload development process is monitored by requiring the students to document and orally defend their progress during three reviews. All participating college teams then travel to the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, or CSBF, in nearby Palestine, Texas for the annual flight in May. The payloads are flown to 100,000 feet using a helium-filled latex sounding balloon launched from CSBF. Student teams participate in flight tracking and payload recovery. Following the flight and payload recovery, the students analyze their data and then present their results to an audience of CSBF engineers, technicians and staff, as well as to the LaSPACE management team and their peer institutions.
For the 2016-2017 program year, the LaACES program included a special focus that required student teams to develop solar eclipse-related experiments. In addition to the science payloads from the advanced LSU ballooning group, the 2017 LaACES launch included nine payloads from seven Louisiana institutions: DCC, LSU Shreveport, LaTech, MSU, River Parishes Community College, Southern University in Baton Rouge and Xavier University of Louisiana.
The nine teams were each judged based upon their scientific documents; their flight readiness presentations; their attention to feedback during the preflight reviews; the level of success achieved during flight operations; data returned during the flight plus the quality and professionalism of the team’s final flight results presentation. The top three teams have been invited to travel with the LSU team to Carbondale, Ill., to fly their payloads alongside the real-time HD video system during the actual solar eclipse. The top three ranked teams from DCC, LaTech and MSU will work over the next two months to prepare their payloads for the Aug. 21 flight with guidance, technical support and financial assistance from LaSPACE at LSU.
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Contact Colleen H. Fava
LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy,
LSU Media Relations