University of Leicester students use high altitude balloons to investigate pollution and weather patterns

The Astronomy and Rocketry Society at the University of Leicester (AstRoSoc) are undertaking Project Aether, a student-led research project into the correlation between the vertical profile of pollutants and weather patterns using a series of high altitude balloon flights.

The team of 20 students involved with the project have designed, built and will be running the onboard experiments with the aim of a student-led research paper being published at the end of the project.

aetherlab

The payload of the helium filled balloon contains a series of sensors to measure levels of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and other such chemical compounds. The data that is collected is then transmitted via radio in order to be analysed. Reaching twice the cruising altitude of a standard jet airliner, the payload will peak at 28km where it will have a viewing horizon of 600km, allowing the curvature of the earth to be photographed by the three onboard cameras.

As the balloon ascends the outside air pressure decreases causing the balloon to expand, the team have accounted for this by adding a system to vent the helium allowing for a controlled descent.

This is one of the first flights of such a descent system in the UK and as far as can be confirmed the first use of such a system by a student team. The team will then follow the balloon in chase cars to retrieve it from its landing location, enabling further data to be recovered and if the system works as planned will enable reuse not only of the payload but also of the balloon.

This unconventional system will be first launched between the 17th and the 24th of September with the exact date to be decided when more accurate weather predictions become available.”

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