Anacapa’s Near Space Balloon Launch is a Success

Students capture photos and environmental data from 90,000 feet above Earth’s surface

AAHAB-1 reached an altitude greater than 90,000 feet overlooking the Central Coast, San Luis Obispo Bay and the Pismo Dunes.

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The Anacapa School’s Near Space Exploration Club (ANSEC) successfully recovered its high-altitude balloon after a weekend flight, which returned stunning photos and environmental data from the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

On Saturday, May 21, 2011, at 9:43 a.m., ANSEC members Julio Bernal, Aubrey Cazabat, Christian Eckert and Connor Proctor along with faculty advisor Levi Maaia launched the club’s first near space balloon probe, AAHAB-1, from a site east of Paso Robles in the small community of Shandon, Calif. The group’s mission was to gather photos and environmental data as the balloon passed through the stratosphere.

The ANSEC team calculated the balloon's lift in order to ensure the craft would climb quickly.

After the probe’s two-hour and 10-minute flight over the California Central Coast, the team recovered the payload in rural Kings County, Calif., 20 miles northeast of the launch site.

“We worked so hard on this project,” said senior Aubrey Cazabat. “It was such an amazing feeling to see the capsule back on the ground and to know that we had done it!”

From the top of the balloon’s 91,122-foot ascent above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, the camera had a view as far as 400 miles in all directions under a black, near space sky. The capsule’s GPS radio tracking signal was heard by amateur radio stations as far away as San Diego and Mendocino Counties.

After beginning this project in the late fall, the Anacapa students quickly learned that they had a steep learning curve ahead as they tackled challenges from wind and flight path prediction to engineering a sturdy but lightweight capsule that could survive brutally cold conditions and hurricane-force winds. Despite these hurdles, the club achieved all of its goals and retrieved extensive environmental data, including temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and radiation exposure levels, along with stunning photos of Earth’s curved surface.

Map data courtesy and © 2011 Google

“We picked up some ice on the camera window, which can be seen in a few of the higher level shots,” said senior Connor Proctor. “Other than that, all of our critical systems worked flawlessly.”

Data from the flight, including photos, a map of the flight path and environmental data, can be found at the school’s Web site

Anacapa School is an independent, co-educational, WASC–accredited, college preparatory day school for junior high and high school students in grades 7-12. Founded in 1981 by Headmaster Gordon Sichi, Anacapa enjoys the best student-teacher ratio of any school, public or private, in Santa Barbara at its historic campus located in the heart of the Santa Barbara civic center.

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Levi C. Maaia, Faculty Advisor
805-617-0360 •