Students build 5th weather balloon
“You get real-life experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the university. We’re the only place in Louisiana that can give undergraduate students aerospace experience. ” RIZWAN MERCHANT, CAPE participant
LAFAYETTE — A student-run engineering group is offering a chance for University of Louisiana at Lafayette students to get their fingerprints in the stratosphere.
CAPE, the Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment, is beginning work on its fifth weather balloon training project, CrawSat5.
The engineering group met Wednesday to discuss how to move forward with the balloon, led by project manager Ryan Kuemper.
“The ultimate goal is to send satellites into space,” Kuemper said. “CAPE does buoy and weather balloon projects in the downtime between satellites, so this is more of a stepping stone in the process.”
The original idea for building these weather balloons came from a need to test payloads for the satellite projects, said five-year CAPE veteran Rizwan Merchant.
“That way, we’re not spending so much money developing stuff, and you get multiple chances to test it out before you put it in space,” Merchant said. “When you put it up in space, you only have one shot.”
CrawSat5 will employ a plethora of subsystems, including ambient light and barometric pressure sensors, as well as positional sensors, a camera and a Geiger counter, which they will use to measure atmospheric radiation. This will be the first time a CrawSat will be outfitted with a Geiger counter.
Several months ago, CAPE launched its second satellite, CAPE-2, into space out of a NASA flight facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. CAPE-2 is the second successful satellite launch for the group, and its success can be credited in part to these smaller, trial projects, Merchant said.
The group is open to all UL-Lafayette students interested in gaining hands-on engineering experience to complement what they learn in class.
“Being a part of CAPE counts as work experience,” Kuemper said. “The weather balloon, the buoy, the satellite goes a long way to supplement things that are missing from the curriculum. There’s a lot of theory in the curriculum, but the hands-on really brings it home and see how these things are happening and how these things work in the real world.”
“You get real-life experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the university,” he said. “We’re the only place in Louisiana that can give undergraduate students aerospace experience. When you go to an actual job interview, you can tell them, ‘I’ve worked on CAPE for two years. I already have experience in the real world.’ ”
The team is aiming to launch the balloon in late August. As for a launch site, the crew still is hashing out the details. Kuemper said the team is going to monitor weather patterns to figure out the best place to launch.
“It all depends on where the jet streams take it,” Kuemper said.
On average, weather balloons stay up in the air for three to four hours. Merchant said where the balloon land depends on air currents and weather conditions. In the past, CAPE has launched their balloons out of Lake Charles, and sometimes they’ll end up as far east as the Mississippi River.