PITTSFIELD, Maine — A group of University of Maine students and several high school students successfully launched two high-altitude balloons from Pittsfield Municipal Airport on Wednesday morning.
Now all they have to do is find them.
“One problem we have now is that the weather data is not available for some reason around here. So we can’t do a good prediction on where it’s supposed to go,” said UMaine associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Rick Eason, who leads the UMaine High-Altitude Ballooning project.
The students split up to prepare two balloons for launch. The helium-filled scientific balloons can travel as high as 20 miles into the sky and are equipped with weather instrumentation, GPS transmitters, still cameras and video cameras, and other electronics.
The balloons were released at 9:45 a.m. The students immediately packed up the gear and loaded into vehicles to track the balloons.
“It will be a hike into the woods somewhere to try to get it all,” said Eason. “We don’t know what the rest of the day is going to bring us.”
Eason said weather information was not available in Pittsfield during the morning. The unavailability of data makes it more difficult to predict the path of the balloons.
“We’re just going to figure that it’s going to head there somewhere,” said Eason, pointing northeast. “We’ll track it with the radios.”
The containers attached to the balloons will parachute to the ground.
Easton said he thought the instrumentation will hit ground somewhere near Bangor.
Six students from Bangor High School also assisted with the launch.
The project is funded by the Maine Space Grant Consortium based in Augusta. It’s an independent, nonprofit agency set up in 1998 to direct NASA funding to academic settings.
Wednesday’s launch was the fourth overall for the scientific ballooning program at the University of Maine, which is in its second year. The last launch was in October.
Eason said the next launch will be on May 9 in Farmington, where three area high schools will participate. The UMaine group will supervise the launches.
Another launch will be from Hermon High School in conjunction with the Pine State Amateur Radio Club on June 2.