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For Immediate Release
July 11, 2013

MVC Students Reach the Stratosphere


Moreno Valley College physics and astronomy professor Dipen Bhattacharya, Ph.D. pushes his students to reach new heights, but seven students jumped into the stratosphere when they successfully launched and recovered a weather balloon that soared a dizzying 76,000 feet above the earth on July 6.

The balloon carried a 3.2-pound payload of two cameras, a GPS device and gauges for temperature and pressure. The students–Daniel Acierto (Vista Del Lago High School), Manuel Belmonte (Rancho Verde HS), Michael Fawcett (Mira Loma HS), Rachel Montoya (Valley View HS), Danilo Noguera (Rancho Verde HS), Omar Roman (San Jacinto HS) and Justo Tarula (Valley View HS)–are part of Moreno Valley College's STEM Program, which prepares students for advanced studies and work in science and technology fields.

"The project was devised as a hands-on educational training project for the science students of Moreno Valley College," said Bhattacharya. "It is the first of its kind within the Riverside Community College District."

Students needed to solve several engineering problems to pull off the project, among them designing the payload correctly, programming cameras and making sure the GPS would provide accurate coordinates so the balloon, which was launched in Yucaipa, could be recovered. Bhattacharya explained that the project helped students to understand the structure of the atmosphere, stratospheric winds, physics of pressure and density.

"GPS calculations were crucial to the success of the experiment because once the balloon was off the ground stratospheric winds might carry the payload hundreds of miles away from the launch site," said Bhattacharya. "The crew has to depend on the satellite GPS signal that provides the latitude and longitude of the payload."

Everything went as planned and the student team successfully recovered the experiment in Apple Valley, nearly 65 miles away. Preliminary data showed the payload attained 76,000 feet, though final analysis could prove that the balloon and its payload traveled higher, Bhattacharya said. Upon reaching the stratosphere the balloon disintegrated, deploying a parachute to return the payload safely to earth. The flight took 92 minutes for the payload to reach its final height and 51 minutes to return to earth.

Noguera spearheaded the project and hopes it will become a yearly event.

"This was my baby," Noguera said. "I wrote the proposal with the idea that future classes will be able to have the experience. The idea is for students to have the ability to analyze prior year's data, comparing it to the data they retrieve in order to see how the earth is changing."

Noguera said he developed the idea while sitting in class one day.

"I saw a lot of students sitting in these difficult classes, but not getting any hands-on experience. I thought this project would provide a practical application for what we were learning. We had to sell the faculty on the idea, as we needed $1,000 for the project," said Noguera, who hopes to transfer to UC Riverside to study mechanical and electronic engineering. "After a while I realized it was an all-or-nothing project. Luckily we got it right."

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