We have solar panels for testing!

As a part of a research project we were planning to do in October, measuring the efficiency of solar cells in near space, we were going to be sent panels from a NASA engineer. Unfortunately, the government shutdown occurred and NASA employees were unable to work. We missed our window of opportunity for the fall launch, but decided to make it a priority for our spring launch.

We received two panels of equal size in the mail this week. One of them is a mass-manufactured battery charging solar panel that costs $20 from Amazon. We expect this to have about 4% efficiency.

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The other one is the “latest and greatest” in thin film photovoltaic technology and should get about 30% efficiency. The cost of this small piece is approximately $3000! We will be very careful with this.

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Early Undergraduate Research at Two-Year Colleges

My article on early undergraduate research at two-year colleges is featured in the November issue of The Physics Teacher.


“Two-year college (TYC) physics teachers are not often required to provide student research experiences as a part of their contracted duties. However, some TYC physics faculty members are interested in developing research opportunities for their freshman- and sophomore-level students, often called “early undergraduate research” (EUR). Here are some suggestions if you are interested in developing and managing EUR at your TYC.”

Upcoming MCC Launch

Because of the government shutdown, our NASA contact is unable to send us the new high-efficiency solar panel we were planning to test. We are proceeding with the launch, but we will be trying some new instruments and procedures to get the data we are interested in taking.

We will be flying a spectrometer to take spectra, a pyranometer for measuring irradiance, and the voltage and current of some standard solar panels, as well as the usual measurements of temperature, pressure, latitude, longitude, and altitude. We are having a GoPro camera modified to take full-spectrum (UV/Visible/IR) and if it arrives before our launch, we will fly it too.

High Altitude Ballooning Workshop at Metropolitan Community College

The NASA Nebraska Space Grant is proud to announce that a workshop for the NASA Nebraska High Altitude Ballooning (N-NHAB) program is open for registration. This workshop will be a 1.5 quarter credit hour course through Metropolitan Community College, equal to 1 hour of semester credit. It is open to college / university students and faculty, and K-12 educators. The workshop’s maximum number of participants is set to 20.

Course Description: This course is a short workshop designed to introduce participants to the world of High-Altitude Ballooning (HAB). It provides the background necessary to design a flight pod with scientific instrumentation, and to participate in a HAB flight to upwards of 100,000ft (19mi) above the Earth’s surface. Students will also participate in the tracking and retrieval of their payload, as well as the analysis of the retrieved data.

Course Objectives:

To help the student learn the skills necessary to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of how physical properties can be measured using probes for data acquisition;

2. Demonstrate an ability to work collaboratively in small groups to develop a research question and to solve a design problem;

3. Participate in a high-altitude balloon launch and retrieval of equipment;

4. Analyze data retrieved from balloon launch;

5. Effectively communicate results from data analysis;

6. Prepare for future HAB opportunities.

Workshop Schedule:

At MCC South Omaha Campus – Mahoney Room 400

Friday, October 4th from 7-9 pm (Introduction and Background)

Friday, October 11th from 7-9 pm (Development of Research Projects)

Friday, October 18th from 7-9 pm (Final Preparation of Pods and Data Format Overview)

Saturday, October 19th from 8 am-4 pm (Launch and Chase)

Friday, October 25th from 7-9 pm (Final Reports)

NASA – NHAB Workshop Registration: 

If you are currently a student at Metropolitan Community College, or have previously taken a credit or non-credit course at Metro, you may register by logging onto your My Way account from the MCC website. The course is available through Express Registration through the Student’s section on My Way.

Metro’s Main website: http://www.mccneb.edu/

The course number is: PHYS_2900_9A

The instructor is Kendra Sibbernsen

Select PHYS – Physics as the subject, the course number is 2900, type in 9A for the section number, and select 13/FA 2013 Credit Fall for the Term. The class is called “Special Topics in Physics: High Altitude Ballooning.” Select Register and Click Submit.

If you have previously taken a course at Metro, but do not remember your password, go to the “Password Station.” http://www.mccneb.edu/password/

If you have not taken a class from Metro, here is the main page for prospective students: http://www.mccneb.edu/gomcc/

Since Metro has an open door policy, the only requirements for admission are that you are 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. A phone call or email to enrollment services should allow you to get a WebAdvisor login and password. You can sign up to take classes at Metro online through you WebAdvisor account (which is very simple to do), you can call and register over the phone, or you can go in talk to an advisor to register. http://www.mccneb.edu/futurestudents/register.asp

Lessons Learned or What NOT To Do in HAB

Here are some lessons that we learned the hard way with our High-Altitude Ballooning program.

1. Do NOT turn the chase van off while preparing for a launch.

If you are using the vehicle to power your antenna and computer and/or other miscellaneous devices, it will drain the battery and you will have to get a jump start before starting the chase.

2. Do NOT forget your APRS antenna at home.

You will be dead in the water and have to run and get it which will delay the launch.

3. Do NOT forget to turn on all of your cameras and probes before you launch.

If you turn on the cameras too early, the batteries may run down and they will stop taking photos before you reach maximum altitude. The best way to prevent this is to have a flight list and follow it. Turn on everything inside the pods before you wrap them up and turn on the external cameras right before you fill the balloon, because once it leaves your fingers, there is nothing else you can do.

4. Do NOT count on your cell phone working during the chase. 

If you are on the interstate or near a large city, there would not be much of a problem. However, if you go just a few miles out into the country, cell service will be spotty at best. Even with a booster, you are going to run into problems if you rely solely on your cell phone service for some vital tasks.

5. A car GPS won’t cut it.

We originally used the removable GPS from our car to try to find the payloads. Even though it could get us to within 20-30 feet of the correct latitude and longitude, we could still not find the payloads in very tall corn. When we had a good hand-held GPS like the kind used for hiking or geocaching, we were able to walk right to it.

6. Have a plan for feeding the chase team.

If you let a bus full of students stop at a convenience store or fast food place during the chase, you will probably miss the landing. Even if you have packed sack lunches, drinks, and snacks, you will probably need to stop for a bathroom break which will take a while if you have lots of people. If you have a small advance chase team, they could go ahead of the larger group and have a greater chance of seeing it land, making it much easier to find.

7. Have a plan when you get to the touchdown site.

Make the participants take the time to put the coordinates in their hand-held GPS units, have them go in teams, and make sure that one person in the team has a walkie-talkie set to the correct channel. We have had students run off willy-nilly when they hear approximately where the payloads landed so they can be the first ones to find it. Most of them are not used to walking long distances in the heat of summer through corn or down dirt roads. They get disoriented easily and might get hurt walking on uneven ground. If everyone has a walkie-talkie, they will hear when a team finds the payloads and everyone can regroup and if there is a problem, they can get help quickly.