High Altitude Balloon


To date, students at Clark Magnet High School have launched three balloons into the upper atmosphere. The payloads carried by all three balloons were chiefly designed by students, and successfully recovered after the balloon’s flight. Detailed below is the story of Panther-2, the second high-altitude balloon to be launched by Clark Engineering students.

Panther-2 was launch on April 28, 2013 from Acton, CA. This venture was a joint project between two 12th grade students, Guy Burstein and Alex Deravanessian, for their Clark senior project, and three 11th grade students, Christopher Pereira, Saikiran Ramanan, and Matej Zampach as their project in the Advanced Engineering class at Clark Magnet High School.

The team, consisting of these five students and three mentors, left Clark Magnet High School at around 9:30 AM on the date of the launch. Upon reaching Acton, the team worked on filling their balloon with enough helium to provide around thirteen pounds of force upwards and getting the payload on the Panther-2 ready to go. Around 12:10 PM, the team launched their balloon, lifting an approximately six pound payload to near-space, ultimately to a maximum height 85,000 feet (over 16 miles high).

The payload consisted of:

  • 3 Go-Pro Cameras
    • One positioned down, with respect to the payload, taking video
    • One positioned down, with respect to the payload, taking still images
    • One attached to a “boom” on the payload, positioned towards the balloon itself, taking video
  • One Arduino micro-controller for data logging, with custom-student build circuits including a:
    • 3-Axis accelerometer
    • 3-Axis magnetometer
    • Solar Panel
    • Carbon Monoxide reader
  • One Trackduino micro-processor used to transmit LIVE location data and temperature reading to APRS
  • One SPOT module, also transmitting live location data, used to track down the payload. Mainly included as a backup measure.

Payload of Panther-2

The team then rushed back to Clark to figure out where the balloon was going. The students had predicted the balloon’s path and figured out that the approximate landing area would be in the Crescenta Valley. During its flight, however, the balloon prematurely ruptured, sending Panther-2 to an unexpected location. The data received via the APRS transmitter was minimal due to the remote location over which it was flying. Thankfully, the backup SPOT module worked and Panther-2 was located in the Angeles National Forest.


Before landing, Panther-2 was able to take this image of it’s surroundings

Luckily, the Panther-2 landed near the intersection of Angeles Forest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. The team spotted the shiny payload on the side of a mountain and was successfully able to retrieve it.

Over the next several weeks, students analyzed the photos, videos, and over 5,000 samples of scientific data logged on-board to perform studies on the balloon’s performance, and environmental studies on atmospheric conditions and recovery of the Angeles National Forest after the devastating 2009 Station Fire. Photos and video were compared from last year’s flight over the same region to understand the impact of Southern California drought conditions on recovery of the Station Fire burn area in the Angeles National Forest. Readings from an on-board carbon monoxide sensor were used to determine if smog from the Greater Los Angeles area is found over the Angeles National Forest at higher altitudes. Acceleration data was used to improve the descent characteristics of the next launch of the Panther-3.


From right to left: David Black (Mentor), Dan Clause (Mentor), Chris Pereira (Junior), Mat Zampach (Junior), Guy Burstein (Senior), Alex Dervanessian (Senior), (Behind) Todd Black (Mentor), Saikiran Ramanan (Junior)


Picture taken by Panther-2 just after balloon was released. Note you can see the team on the lower left hand corner


Clear aerial shot of Crescenta Valley all the way down to the coast

Beautiful shot of the Angeles National Forest

Beautiful shot of the Angeles National Forest

Panther-3 launched just a few days after Panther-2. The main goal of Panther-3 was that of better economy. The payload was fitted with the bare minimum of equipment. A smaller balloon was used. The payload included only one camera, one SPOT tracker, and a cheap student-made foam cooler. Panther-3 was launched at night and was also successfully recovered.