Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

Oct. 21, 2008

Whitworth Physics Students to Launch High-Altitude Balloon into Space Oct. 30

WHO: Whitworth physics students and Professor of Physics John Larkin

WHAT: Launch of a high-altitude balloon into 'near space'

WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 30, weather permitting. Expected departure from campus to launch site is 8 a.m.

WHERE: Launch site located 45-120 miles west of Spokane (site to be determined 24 hours before launch, based on predicted weather conditions).

Media representatives who are interested in attending the launch can call John Larkin at (509) 777-4865 or Emily Proffitt at (509) 777-4703 to make arrangements and get updated information about the time and location of the launch.

The high-altitude balloon launch project is part of an upper-division electricity and magnetism class at Whitworth. The balloon is expected to reach an altitude of 80,000 to 100,000 feet before popping. That distance, called "near space," is above 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. The balloon will ascend at a rate of roughly 1,500 feet per minute, and the instruments on board will parachute down after the balloon pops. The initial descent can reach Mach 2 speeds. The total flight time will be between two and three hours. Some of the projects that the students have designed around the balloon launch include measuring the ozone, UV light and cosmic rays in the Earth's upper atmosphere, and measuring variations in the Earth's magnetic field.

The balloon will carry a GPS receiver and radio equipment that will transmit data from the balloon and its instruments during the flight. The GPS coordinates will be received by chase vehicles and also will be relayed to a website so people on the Whitworth campus can follow the flight. A mission control center will be set up in the Hixson Union Building at Whitworth, where a map showing the balloon's path will be projected on a large screen and updated in real-time during the flight.

Photos will be taken by cameras on board the balloon during the flight. Those photos can't be transmitted by radio during flight, but will be available the following day. To view pictures and video clips taken on board a balloon launched last summer by John Larkin, the Whitworth physics professor in charge of the balloon project, click here.

Last summer, Larkin attended a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop at Taylor University, in Indiana, to learn more about their successful balloon program. Whitworth will be using Taylor University's equipment for this launch, and Taylor will be sending some of its students to the launch here to assess the project's educational benefits.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students, offers 53 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


John Larkin, assistant professor of physics, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4865 or jlarkin@whitworth.edu.

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or eproffitt@whitworth.edu.

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