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DHS students are up to a challenge

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Photo by Pat Sunderland Tatum Gilmore, Jaspar Carmichael, Logan Freed and Hannah Owens explain how they plan to get a payload to an altitude of 120,000 feet. Carmichael and Freed said they designed a balsa wood structure because they gained a lot of exper

AP Physics 2 and STEM students from Delta High School hope to reach new heights in this year's high altitude challenge.

Physics instructor Ben Magtutu challenged his students to design a unique scientific payload that can reach a minimum altitude of 120,000 feet and be returned safely to their possession.

Last year the students reached a confirmed altitude of 102,000 feet with a payload that measured ionizing radiation through the stratosphere.

This year's students used lessons learned from the previous launch to come up with three concepts they presented for funding.

The three most promising prototypes are the result of a brainstorming process that began early this fall. Working in groups, the students "pitched" their ideas to a group of community members and school administrators at a public event Dec. 8.

Students covered several facets crucial to a successful launch, including FAA/FCC regulations, materials, tracking, communication and recovery, instrumentation, design, cost, feasibility and impact.

Two of the teams planned to launch their payload via a helium-filled weather balloon, the same method that was used last year. The third team intended to employ a multi-stage rocket system.

After reviewing rankings and comments from those attending the public presentation, Magtutu announced the green team project would be funded.

The team comprised of Jaspar Carmichael, Hannah Owens, Tatum Gilmore and Logan Freed intends to measure irradiance, or solar energy, at different altitudes. They believe the data will be useful as research is conducted on reusable energy sources.

The payload will be contained within a balsa wood structure, because balsa wood is light and durable and team members want to keep the weight under 500 grams to increase the maximum altitude. To secure instruments within the structure, they'll use the school's 3D printer to customize containment. Securing the payload is a priority after the loss last year of the GoPro camera, they said. The camera fell from the sky and was later discovered in the back yard of a Cedaredge resident.

Estimated cost of construction, with contingency, is $1,510.

The second team planned to customize a foam-built payload glider. A GoPro camera was to be placed in the belly of the glider to film the entire flight.

Team members Nathan Sanders, Beau Byers, Nathanael Santonastaso, Dakota Waybill, Joey Fillmore and Christopher Hufman believed the footage will spark children's interest in STEM programs offered at the high school.

In response to questions from the audience, they said they have not estimated how far the glider will fly; they just know they want to configure the mass so the glider does not come crashing to the ground, but instead floats gently to earth after the balloon pops. Estimated cost of materials is $2,000.

Team Rad Rocket -- Greg Teel, Kaylie Rankin, Makenzie Hill, Cristina Caballero, Justin Lancaster and Zach Nicholson -- presented plans to fabricate a fiberglass rocket with 3D-printed fins, nose cone and wings. The center of the rocket would be hollow to house two rolls of ISO 3200 film, one of which will be protected by plastic-shelled lead storage container. The students wanted to see which film captured more gamma rays, which would be seen on the film as pricks of light.

Total cost of this project was $5,500. Although nearly twice the cost, students believed with the rocket there's a greater chance of reaching 120,000 feet.

All three projects included electronic equipment to collect data and tracking devices which would enable students to track and recover their payloads. They were also required to provide photographic or video evidence of the entire flight, and measure temperature, pressure and acceleration during the flight.

"The general goal of this project is to give these students exposure and experience to the engineering and design process as well as teaching 21st century skills such as teamwork, communication and planning," their teacher said.

Although just one concept was funded, all students will have a role in project development and launch. Anticipated launch of designs is April, although weather delayed last year's launch into May.

Hannah Owens, who participated in the challenge last year, said team members discovered a website that proved to be reliable in predicting the flight trajectory of their balloon. That balloon was launched from Fruita-Monument High School and recovered from a ranch outside of Hotchkiss after a flight of about two hours.

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