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Monday, May 2, 2016

DePauw tests high altitude balloon network

Monday, November 5, 2007

Howard Brooks (left) supervised as DePauw juniors Dan Bennett (center) and Brian Spector coordinated Saturday's HALO launch. The project tested new emergency communication systems and collected scientific data from the outer-atmosphere.
A single balloon floated high above DePauw's Julian Science and Mathematics Center at 10:03 a.m. on Saturday morning. A few hours later, it crash-landed nine miles north of New Castle, Ind., after reaching the near space height of 96,700 feet, bringing the scientific community one step closer to demonstrating a new emergency communication system.

DePauw was one of seven mid-western universities to take part in Saturday's synchronized launch, forming the High Altitude Launch Opportunity Network or HALO, designed to create the first ever high-speed balloon-to-balloon network 20 miles above the Earth.

While in flight, the radio signal from DePauw's balloon could be heard as far north as Ontario, Canada, and as far west as Wisconsin, said Physics and Astronomy Professor Howard L. Brooks.

According to Brooks, one balloon is capable of providing uninterrupted cell phone coverage to all of Indiana.

"It's the perfect example of what could be used in a post-Katrina situation," Brooks said.

The helium-filled balloon, rigged with a parachute, dangled two communication networks, a Geiger counter and instruments capable of measuring temperature, pressure and humidity. There was also plenty of room to include DePauw student experiments, one of which used a cosmic telescope to measure protons from the upper atmosphere.

The onboard communication networks allowed DePauw experimenters and the community to track the HALO balloon throughout its journey via web site and to its exact location. A team of students was waiting to recover the data when the balloon burst and plummeted back to Earth.

This was the 18th balloon launch for DePauw's Balloon Assisted Stratospheric Experiments, or BASE program, whose inaugural launch was in November 2006. According to Brooks, private industry is also working hard to perfecting the technology and some hope a prototype balloon network will soar high above the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Funding and equipment for the HALO launch was provided by StratoStar through the Indiana Space Grant Consortium.

Information about DePauw's involvement with HALO including data, video and still images captured during Saturday's flight are available at: www.depauw.edu/acad/physics/base.

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