Students in the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department are co-coordinating a worldwide competition for people of all ages and abilities to launch balloons to the edge of space. The team anticipates that between April 10 and April 27, 2015, more than 300 teams around the world will release helium balloons that can soar to heights approaching 20 miles above the Earth’s surface. The balloons often carry cameras, which, at the peak of a balloon’s flight, can capture the curvature of the Earth.
AeroAstro grad student and MIT organizing team member Duncan Miller says planners are targeting a wide range of potential participants. “The Global Space Balloon Challenge is designed to be as appealing and challenging to university-level and professional teams as it is to grades K-12," Miller says. "We’re offering a blend of collaboration, competition, and technology that gets people excited about science and engineering."
The Global Space Balloon Challenge was founded in 2013 by MIT students with their peers at Stanford University and the University of Michigan. The 2014 challenge attracted 60 teams from 18 countries on six continents.
Registration for the April 2015 competition has opened at balloonchallenge.org. The website includes beginner tutorials to help teams get started, online forums for collaboration and celebration, and competition details. Teams will compete for the highest altitute and best design. Prizes include gift cards, cameras, and electronics.
“High-altitude ballooning is an exciting venture,” says Global Space Balloon Challenge president and co-founder David Gerson, a propulsion engineer at SpaceX. “The process of building and flying balloons provides individuals with the experience of a full design life cycle, followed by the excitement of an actual flight — all for around $500 and a few weekends of work.”