Stanford University students out to improve upon their own world record visited San Benito County on Jan. 19 for the launch of their long-distance, latex weather balloon.
Paige Brown, a member of the Stanford Student Space Initiative (SSSI), said the group launched a balloon last fall that went all the way to Morocco in five days.
“That five days that we flew was actually a world record,” Brown said. “We hold a world record for the longest duration latex weather balloon flight.”
Though the group doesn’t have an official acknowledgement of its achievement, Brown said it relies on records kept on the Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning website.
According to that site, records are unavailable as of Jan. 25 because they are being transferred.
The California Near Space Program previously held the record with a 57-hour flight before SSSI took over with 70-, 79- and 88.7-hour flights. SSSI’s record now stands at 121 hours and 34 minutes, Brown said.
The group’s goal is to use the wind currents at different altitudes to control the trajectory of the balloon. This is achieved by venting helium or dropping ballast to regulate the balloon’s altitude, Brown said. She added the balloon, also known as VALBAL (short for valve-ballast), can keep the same altitude for up to five days, unlike ordinary weather balloons that pop within three hours of flight.
The Jan. 19 attempt to launch a balloon from Brigantino Park did not result in what the group hoped would be a two- or three-day flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The flight was cut short because the payload experienced electrical issues, Brown said. It landed in northwest Arizona the morning of Jan. 20.
The group plans to attempt the flight again once they recover the payload.
Brown said the group chose Hollister as the weather balloon launching point because it was far enough from airplane traffic in San Francisco and San Jose air space. The group has launched balloons from its local launch site about once a month for the past four years.
SSSI’s balloon flights can be tracked here.
The team’s ultimate goal is to fly a balloon around the world within the next year.
SSSI was founded in 2013 and is Stanford’s largest project-based student group, with more than 100 members. The members are split into six project teams: balloons, rockets, satellites, biology, operations and policy.