Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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Freshman seminar takes students to"near-space"

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Students in Professor James Flaten’s AEM 1905: Spaceflight with Ballooning freshman seminar showed off their miniature spacecraft at an exhibit in the Akerman hangar lobby on Dec. 13, 2011.  This year 4 teams of students built (near-)spacecraft to measure temperature, pressure, relative humidity, cosmic radiation, acceleration, and magnetic field during their ascent into the stratosphere.  Other science experiments included examining the spectrum of sunlight from below and above the bulk of the atmosphere, trying to take pictures of the Sun’s faint corona, monitoring the behavior of water as it is driven around its phase diagram by low temperatures and low pressures experienced during the flight, and studying mutations of bacteria caused by exposure to the high-radiation environment of near-space.

This freshman seminar balloon flight, dubbed GopherLaunch 45A, was launched from St. Peter, MN, on October 29, 2011.  The stack ascended to about 90,000 feet in just over 1 hour before the balloon burst and the payloads returned to the ground by parachute, landing just south of Hollandale, MN (north of Austin).  This year’s flight was highly unusual in that it encountered tremendous turbulence at about 70,000 ft on ascent, knocking out both on-board GPS tracking systems and leading to a several-hour delay in finding and recovering the payloads after they landed.  The student payloads were not damaged by this event but the GPS/radio units needed repair.

After the flight students analyzed their data and produced both oral and written reports about their first foray into near-space (i.e. nearly into outer space).  For more information about the class results contact Dr. Flaten, flaten (at)

This freshman seminar was sponsored by the MN Space Grant Consortium and by the College of Science and Engineering.

Last Modified: Tuesday, 20-Dec-2011 11:49:54 CST -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation