LunarHAB: Launch and Recovery

By Anthony Romaniello · December 4, 2015

Sunday, September 27th was the launch date for the Makers Club’s fourth high altitude balloon launch. This project, dubbed LunarHAB, was designed to capture footage of the total lunar eclipse.

About the Eclipse

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are perfectly aligned, so that the Sun casts the Earth’s shadow, or umbra, onto the Moon. This eclipse, taking place between September 27th and 28th, was no ordinary lunar eclipse. In addition to it being a total eclipse, it was also a super moon, or as it is known to astronomers, the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. To find out more about the eclipse, check out the awesome video from NASA below.

The Launch

On the afternoon of September 27th, the Makers Club held a last minute meeting to wrap up the final work on LunarHAB, and to prepare for the launch. Before we departed for Cartersville, most members of the club decided to shave the sides of our heads. We made quick and dirty work of each others hair, absolutely going to town with the clippers. The end result was 6 heads shaven into mohawks, with only 3 members of the club opting out.

When we arrived at Sam Smith Park (yes, the same launch site as HAB-1!), we got straight to work. Our friend and former Makers Club member Alexander Hammond, who left Lovett after last school year, showed up to support us. We inflated the balloon, secured the payload, and started the cameras. “Three, two, one!” and we let go, sending the payload into the air. As it soared off into the night, the LunarHAB team ended the launch day with Waffle House.

The Recovery

Unfortunately, since this eclipse was a unique event (not occurring again for nearly 20 years), we were forced to launch in less than optimal weather. From the ground, it was impossible to see the eclipse due to the thick cloud cover. Because of this, our flight prediction wasn’t very accurate and our GPS had difficulty reporting. In addition, we had school the next day, so we couldn’t get off to recovering right away.

From what we could tell using our GPS points, the balloon was in the air for well over hours. It went back and forth because of the wind, but ended up landing in a forest northwest of Canton, GA. Ned Ellis and I made the approximately 45 minute drive after school on the Tuesday following the launch. After a quick hike through the woods, we were able to retrieve the balloon using the last reported GPS point. The balloon landed in a tree, and narrowly missed landing in private property, labeled “No Trespassing” every ten feet or so along a treeline.

Debriefing LunarHAB

We hoped that the balloon, making its way above the clouds, would be able to get clear shots of the eclipse. Unfortunately, the script we installed on our Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS encountered an error before it reached a high enough altitude, despite our hours of testing. We also recorded a Night Lapse using out GoPro, which turned out somewhat well, although there was still minimal visibility of the eclipse. While we are bummed that we weren’t able to get good shots of the moon, we learned a lot from the experience and had fun doing it. As with our previous balloon projects, this has better prepared us for next time. More specifically, this payload flew custom built electronics for the first time, which we plan to use for GSBC next year.