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Old September 4th, 2007, 08:33 PM   #1
Xelebes
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Edmonton men reach edge of space on balloon string

Thought this was kinda neat. I mean, we eventually want to build space elevators and spacescrapers and the sort...


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Local men reach edge of space on balloon string
Anna Mehler Paperny, The Edmonton Journal
Published: 1:35 am

EDMONTON - Tony Rafaat didn't send an object into space, but he came pretty close.

Almost 120,000 feet (36,000 metres) above sea level, to be exact.

Rafaat and several of his friends, all amateur radio aficionados, launched a weather balloon into near-space earlier this month. It was the sixth-highest launch of its kind in the world.
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They have the photos to prove it.

"It was a real dream for me," Rafaat said. "I guess it was my baby to a large extent, but it wouldn't have happened without others' help."

After reading an article online about someone in California who launched a weather balloon attached to a camera, radio transmitter and tracking device, the schoolteacher couldn't resist the project's educational potential.

"I thought, 'Wow, that's really neat,' " he said. "From an educational perspective, this type of a project encompasses many subject areas. Of course science, mathematics, geography. You can also get into (a language arts) component -- you could do poetry, you could do art."

Rafaat connected with several like-minded Albertans to form SABLE -- the Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment. The aim was to launch a helium-filled weather balloon attached to a parachute and to a container with a camera, a GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking device, a radio transmitter and an antenna.

The camera took one photo per minute and the GPS device monitored the balloon's location. The radio transmitter and antenna relayed the information back to the crew's radios on the ground.

There was much groundwork to be laid, however, before liftoff could take place.

The crew needed to determine how much helium they had to fill the balloon with and how to keep all the fragile equipment safe and functioning in a cold, low-pressure environment. Barry Sloan, a former technician, custom-designed an antenna and wiring that connected their GPS device to the radio transmitter.

Rafaat estimates the whole experiment cost around $400, with the most expensive item being a $130 digital camera bought off eBay.

After two unsuccessful attempts in the spring and summer of 2006, one of which resulted in the balloon becoming tangled in the branches of a tree, the crew tried for a third time on Aug. 11. They launched the balloon from a field near Sherwood Park. The experiment's third incarnation, SABLE-3, was a success.

"It was a really textbook mission," Rafaat said.

The balloon rose at a rate of 2,610 feet per minute (783 metres per minute), expanding to a diameter of 12 metres -- eight times its starting size -- as the pressure dropped.

"You could see what appeared to be a small, white dot rising through the blue of the sky," Rafaat said. "Of course you can see it, 'cause now it's the size of a bungalow."

At 120,000 feet, the balloon reached capacity and popped, landing in a farmer's field near Vegreville, about 100 kilometres from the launch site.

For Rafaat, who does photography on the side, the camera was an important component of their experiment. "That was a huge part of this: I wanted a photo from near space which contains both the black of space, the upper stratosphere and the curve of the Earth."

apaperny@thejournal.canwest.com


© The Edmonton Journal 2007
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Old September 5th, 2007, 04:07 AM   #2
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