PLTW Students Send Balloon Into the Stratosphere

Brent Vermeulen is a PLTW instructor at Hobart High School in Hobart, Indiana. Brent is a graduate of Purdue University and earned a master’s from Ball State University.

Last fall, 12 Engineering Design and Development students from Hobart High School in Hobart, Indiana, designed, constructed, launched, and successfully retrieved a high-altitude balloon. 


On the first day of the school year, I told my students that I wanted to send a balloon as close as we could to space, I wanted to record the entire trip, and, most importantly, I wanted to get the balloon back.

The senior PLTW students began right away by listing every problem they could think of that they might run into with this project. They broke up into different teams such as tracking, retrieval, video, construction, launch, data, and so forth. Students wrote their own grant proposal and got help from three different local companies, and in addition, arranged for helium to be supplied by the local welding and gas supply store, Praxair. They sent up a 360 camera and a GoPro Hero4 to record the trip. In addition, they used amateur radio and a GPS spot tracker to track the location of the payload (the box attached to the balloon) during the flight.

The balloon’s entire trip lasted about two hours and 30 minutes. The balloon exploded due to change in pressure at somewhere above 99,680 feet, which was our last-known altitude. We retrieved the balloon with the help of a local amateur radio expert in Kokomo, Indiana.

This project taught so much more than just the design process – including problem solving, writing, perseverance, motivation, critical thinking, and ambition, just to name a few. I have to give a lot of credit to a Master Teacher of mine named Scott Banister who teaches PLTW classes at Pittsford Mendon High School in New York. He gave me this idea and has been sending up balloons for about five years now.

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