A multidisciplinary University of Kentucky College of Engineering student team spent the morning of April 24 at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research preparing for a once in a generation scientific opportunity.

The students are members of the UK Eclipse Ballooning Team and they were conducting a practice launch leading up to this summer’s total solar eclipse on August 21. It will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in 99 years and the first to be visible in the southeastern United States since 1970.

The UK Eclipse Ballooning Team is comprised of about 30 UK students. During the eclipse, the student researchers will launch two high-altitude latex balloons equipped to take pictures and record video of this rare event. The UK effort is part of a nationwide scientific effort led by NASA. NASA Space Grant, a program of the NASA Office of Education that develops the U.S. aerospace STEM workforce and aerospace research, is conducting a nationwide cooperative eclipse event with over 50 teams live-streaming video from the edge of space.

Monday’s practice session allowed the team to test systems and procedures that will be used during the eclipse launch. As part of the eclipse launch, the team will fly several payloads – including equipment to livestream video – from an approximate altitude of 80,000-100,000 feet. The UK Eclipse Ballooning Team is supported by NASA Kentucky’s Space Grant Program, which provides aerospace-related experiential learning opportunities at colleges and universities across the state.

The project is guided by faculty coordinator Suzanne Weaver Smith, Donald and Gertrude Lester Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of NASA Kentucky.

“Today was our first double balloon launch in preparation for the eclipse,” said Virginia Smith, Mission Control Team Leader and a UK mechanical engineering student. “While not all of the technology we flew was eclipse ready, this was a fantastic milestone for testing tracking capabilities, video transmission range, and our team's set-up, launch, and recovery operations. I am extremely proud of how our team performed today, especially when the wind was throwing our balloon around, but everyone remained quick on their feet stopping the balloon from hitting the pavement right before launch."