The International Space University’s Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Studies program reached new heights this year when 39 participating students launched two balloons into the Earth’s stratosphere, capturing images of South Australia from a height of 30 kilometres.
With an array of monitoring and imaging equipment tethered to the balloons, as well as a packet of grape seeds, the students filled the balloons with helium until they stretched two metres in diameter.
Then, following a series of telemetry checks and an obligatory 10-second countdown, they were launched from Mount Barker and Serafino Winery in McLaren Vale, into a crystal clear sky on a calm Sunday morning.
Their journey high above the Earth’s surface saw the balloons gradually expand to 10 metres in diameter due to reduced air pressure, with visible and infrared images being captured of the shrinking land and coastline below.
Finally, at an altitude of just over 30km, the balloons popped and fell back down to Earth, their payloads being retrieved by students just a few hours after launching
The project was a highlight of this year’s Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Studies program (SH-SSP17), an intensive five-week long program which marks the sixth time the program has been held at UniSA’s Mawson Lakes Campus. It provides students the opportunity to learn about space applications, space policy and space services, plus an overview of the principles and concepts involved in space science, space systems engineering and technology.
The principal theme and focus of the 2017 program that is being explored by students – who this year attended the course from more than 10 countries - revolved around small satellites.
Program Co-Director, UniSA’s Associate Professor Graziella Caprarelli, says one of the great things about the satellite revolution is that countries that have been excluded from the significant benefits and services of a space economy, because of the high sector costs, will increasingly be able to develop their own payloads and support their own satellites.
“Small satellite technology is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and operational, and what were once seen as merely test projects, can operate as fully functional carriers of complex payloads,” Assoc Prof Caprarelli says.
“This is making space accessible to virtually all countries,” she says.
“But with the positives also come challenges and we will see management issues arise in the constellation of small satellites soon to be orbiting the earth – so the students at SH-SSP are also considering the regulatory changes and policy issues that need to come into play as the small scale satellite technologies evolve.
“The students are also able to explore the highest level of innovation involved in the development of satellites and systems of satellites but also look at how we manage the territory of space, so that it is safe, fair, and run with good governance.”
As well as simulating a constellation of Earth observation small satellites, the balloon project also gave the students the experience of launching a payload, as well as collecting and analysing visible and infrared images of the land below.
“The grape seeds were successfully recovered and now we can do some experiments on them and see if the seeds are still viable after they have gone into space," SH-SSP participant Jessica Todd says.
"We are hoping that, following this, our host, Serafino Wines, will plant them and grow some space wine.”
Another participant, Lawrence Trevor, said the seeds were exposed to extreme conditions and would be bombarded with solar radiation and that they might have "X-men grapes" should they still be viable.
"The conditions up where the balloon will be flying are pretty extreme," Lawrence says.
"It is about minus 80 degrees Celsius and the air pressure is about one per cent of sea level."
See the story on ABC News.