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Dreaming Big: Henderson Squadron Sees Success with Second Test Launch

Cadets and Senior Members from Henderson Composite Squadron gather just before 5:30 am to begin test launch #2.

Dreaming Big: Henderson Squadron Sees Success with Second Test Launch

2d Lt Holly Addleman, Public Affairs Officer
Henderson Composite Squadron
Cadet Master Sgt. Payce Anderson uses his drone flying skills to record footage of the launch and to help the recovery team locate the package.

May 25, 2019, more than 25 cadets, senior members and parents counted down in anticipation as a high-altitude balloon launched from a dry lakebed near Jean, Nevada. The beautiful weather and cloudless sky painted a faultless backdrop for the early morning exercise.

Reaching far beyond weekly meetings, 1st Lt Thomas Whitcomb, 1st Lt Ken Kennedy and numerous Henderson Composite Squadron cadets committed immeasurable hours to fundraising, planning, equipment design and research in preparation for their second test launch.

Lt. Col. Pete Goertzen had the honor of launching the High Altitude Balloon on launch day.

Once launched, the balloon remained visible to the naked eye for over 30 minutes or about 6 miles at an altitude of 20,000 feet. The helium-filled balloon remained airborne for a total flight time of 2 hours 45 mins. and reached an altitude of nearly 60,000 feet and traveled a total distance of nearly 80 miles. The team tracked the balloon to its eventual landing site nearly 65 miles NE of Las Vegas.

The launch day marked the second launch since the beginning of the High-Altitude Balloon project and the first launch of 2019. Henderson Composite Squadron’s Aerospace Education Officer, Thomas Whitcomb said that the cadets remain dedicated to the intricacies of the project and have also worked very hard to raise funds necessary for the equipment and helium.

Cadet Master Sgt. Robert Stamanis and Cadet Airman 1st Class Quintin Healey begin the arduous task of inflating the balloon.

Recovery of the payload was led by Lt Col Dan Wilcox and included 4 cadets. The ground team tracked the balloon’s progress visually and with assistance provided by the telemetry/ ground station. For several additional hours, the team faced punishing terrain while trekking to retrieve the balloon and payload. Not knowing the uncertainties they would face, the team considers it to be a great outcome to have recovered the payload intact and undamaged.

The payload itself consisted of multiple cameras and a Tracksoar APRS telemetry transmitter. The flight cameras captured video and the telemetry equipment measured the balloon’s altitude, location, temperature, wind speed and air pressure, then transmitted that data to the ground station which was built by 2d Lt Ken Brand.

The sun rises over the dry lake bed in Jean, NV.

The ground station consisted of a radio receiver fed from a custom-built antenna, and data was then fed into an in-field laptop computer for decoding. Brand also built a custom software solution which stores data packets, displays data to the user interface, and calculates bearing to the balloon. The Ground tracking station successfully tracked the balloon from launch to descent until terrain no longer allowed proper reception of the radio signal.

1st Lt. Thomas Whitcomb and Cadet Master Sgt. Payce Anderson meticulously tie the string to the balloon, ensuring the knots are strong and can ensure the weight and flight.

The High-Altitude Balloon Project was initiated in 2018 by Lieutenants Ken Kennedy and Thomas Whitcomb with the intent to build and fly low cost weather balloon payloads into the stratosphere, capturing photographs, recording sensor data and providing a reliable launch platform for high altitude experiments.

The High Altitude Balloon Team watches in anticipation as the balloon ascends.

Whitcomb hopes to encourage cadets to become more interested in Aerospace and STEM education while encouraging them to use their interpersonal skills to work as a team and lean on others with equally valuable skill sets. This balloon launch was just that, in that it provided a different way for students to learn, and one that could result in greater enthusiasm and understanding of aerospace principles and teamwork.

Recovered package, landed safely.

While the team continues to process data, Kennedy trusts that all involved would call the second of the balloon launches a success. Moving forward, the Henderson Composite Squadron High Altitude Balloon team will make iterations based on lessons learned and they anticipate that they will find their next launch to be even more successful.

Dream big with these determined cadets as they raise the necessary funds and plan the final balloon launch, while attempting to break the current world record.

Recovery team led by Lt. Col. Dan Wilcox and 2nd Lt. Ken Brand. Cadet Master Sgt. Payce Anderson, Cadet Chef Master Sgt. Heili Petrisca, Cadet Airman 1st Class Michael Brand, and Cadet Staff Sgt. Trevor Wilcox tracked the balloon for nearly 3 hours.
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