2014 ~ Present| Section - VPO

Lightning from the Edge of Space

GOALS:  We launch balloons, loaded with electronics, cameras, communications and sensors, to the edge of space (100,000 ft) to not only capture incredible views but to gather valuable scientific data about thunderstorms (electric field, x-rays, optical measurements).

We have already launched and retrieved a balloon with camera payload (see picture and video) multiple times. At 100,000 ft you are above the sky and at the edge of space – our cameras can see the curvature of the Earth.

Now our team works to make the platform and payload lighter, cheaper, controllable and trackable from the ground with wireless communications. We aim to add more complicated instruments and sensors, slowly transforming the balloon into a scientifically valuable tool with potential future applications to aviation safety, thunderstorm and severe weather forecasting. We are open to new ideas from team members about what cool and useful new capabilities to add.

A longer term goal is to develop high-altitude (>50,000 ft) UAVs and gliders, which may be hoisted and dropped by a balloon, although regulatory restrictions currently make this difficult.

METHODS & TECHNOLOGIES:  Circuits, smartphones and GPS, wireless comms, ham radio, lightweight electric/magnetic field sensors, x-ray detectors, lightweight cameras, atmospheric wind predictions, aerodynamics, UAVs, balloons.

RESEARCH/DESIGN ISSUES:  Detection of electromagnetic fields from lightning. X-ray emissions from thunderstorms. Monitoring of electrical charging of thunderstorms. Prediction of thunderstorm cessation, and onset of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Detection of upper atmospheric discharges related to lightning.

MEETING TIME: Wed, 10:10-11:00

ADVISORS:  Morris Cohen (ECE)


·         EE, CmpE – Circuits and embedded systems, smartphone app programming, wireless communications, electric field sensors, image storage and processing

·         CS – Programming, mobile app development, wireless networks, server development

·         ME, AE – Lightweight material platform design and fabrication, aerodynamics

·         EAS – Atmospheric electricity, instrumentation, data processing

·         Physics – Instrumentation, x-ray sensors

Prof. M.B. Cohen, 404-894-8415, morris.cohen@ece.gatech.edu