Yesterday, we launched our first balloon. This was a test flight to make sure that all the hardware and software was functioning as planned. The two small black spheres in the picture are tracer balloons. We need to make sure we know where the wind is going to take the balloon before we launch it. Once the balloon floated skyward, we dashed back into the Operations Center to begin tracking its progress. An onboard Geographical Positioning System (GPS), in conjunction with a modem, allowed us to track the balloon precisely as it headed inland. It is programmed to send us an email every few minutes with all the pertinent data: GPS coordinates (longitude, latitude and altitude), temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure.
It was interesting to note where the forecast models for wind direction were in agreement with where our balloon went and when the model and the actual paths diverged. It appeared that at very low altitude, the balloon did not do what we expected from the model, but as the balloon gained altitude, the model seemed more accurate.
The flight ended as we tested the automatic flight termination software and hardware. If the balloon doesn't get a command from us at least once an hour, the software assumes that contact has been lost and a small hole is burned in the balloon. It landed in the mountains somewhere southwest of Veracruz. Mission accomplished!
We're planning our first real flight either Wednesday or Thursday. We will be traveling to a site outside Mexico City where we will release two balloons. Stay tuned.