June 28 2013 12:00 AM

MSU students to launch weather balloon for documentary

Friday, June 28 — After successfully launching a weather balloon into Earth’s upper atmosphere last November, a group of Michigan State University filmmaking and engineering students, led by MSU College of Communications Arts and Sciences instructor Troy Hale, will launch another balloon at 10 a.m. Sunday in Grand Rapids.

Hale said the space balloon is equipped with six HD video cameras. The footage will be used for a documentary, produced by MSU's Media Sandbox, on the process of launching a weather balloon.

“This is getting footage from a place where it's hard to get footage,” Hale said.

The launch will take place at International Met Systems Headquarters in Grand Rapids. It is expected to take two to four hours and will top out at 100,000 feet, he said.

“You start to see the curvature of the earth and the sky goes black but it's not actually in outer space,” he said. “It may get into the stratosphere, depending on what happens with the launch. The cameras will (make it) look like it's close to space.”

He said the group learned much from last year's launch, which he called a “successful failure,” because although it flew and landed safely, the film footage was not recovered. Last year’s balloon was launched in White Lake, Mich., and landed in Lake Erie; this year the launch point was moved further west so the balloon would land on dry land.

International Met Systems, a Grand Rapids-based company that researches and measures atmospheric conditions from the ground to the lower stratosphere, will install real-time tracking devices in the balloon that will translate data such as altitude and speed.

Hale asked MSU senior Kirk Mason last year to help film the launches and conduct interviews for the project. said collaborating with the engineering students, various businesses and even international media, has helped him learn a lot during the experience.

“It's a huge collaboration of people for a simple idea,” Mason said. “We all learn from each other. (The engineering students) learn development processes from us and we learn how to build a camera, which is incredibly important for a film student.”

Hale said the documentary will be completed depending on how this launch goes. He said it will include footage of last year's launch, interviews with National Weather Service employees and a hot air balloon launch event in Jackson.

“We could put it together now with a failed launch or continue with this upcoming launch,” he said. “It could be done in the fall or wait another year.”

Along with looking into screening the film at film festivals and airing it on PBS, the team has been in talks with Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing to screen the film as part of an exhibit.