Kelly Shulman’s Grade 11 physics class at West Ferris Intermediate Secondary School has a unique experiment in the works.

The students are preparing to launch a weather balloon that will gather various weather data they’ll use throughout the school year in the classroom.

Ryan McColeman, who is a returning Grade 12 student, says the balloon will rise 30 kilometres before it pops and begins its descent back to earth.

McColeman says during its re-entry, on board equipment like mini-computers will track various weather like atmospheric pressure.

A GPS tracking system will also tell the students where the balloon explodes and where it lands making it easier to retrieve.

It will take the balloon about two hours to rise and about 45 minutes to fall back to earth.

McColeman says it’s expected to land somewhere north of Temiskaming an area that has plenty of lakes.

However the students have taken steps to protect the payload equipment in case the balloon doesn’t stay on dry ground.

“The payload is mostly made from Styrofoam,” McColeman said.

“So it’s already mostly water-resistant.  We also coated it with a wax-like substance so it should be fairly waterproof.”

McColeman says the students have a series of responsibilities.

Some will record the actual launch and create a film documentary of the event, others will keep the school up to date on the progress of the class project and others are responsible for the on-board equipment like a camera and the antennas.

McColeman and classmate Ethan Hurd are responsible for the parachute that allows the payload to descend softly back to earth.

“When the balloon pops at 30,000 metres there aren’t many air molecules left up there, the way we have them on the ground,” he said.

“So we have to make sure that it’s going to expand without very much air.”

When the balloon starts its descent, the students can begin driving toward it thanks to the GPS and the North Bay Amateur Radio Club.

Assuming it lands on someone’s roof or a member of the public sees it, they’re asked to leave it alone and not to remove anything from the payload.

A card on the payload will state the item is the property of West Ferris Intermediate Secondary School and that someone will pick it up.

As for the launch date, it’s dependent on the weather but the hope is the balloon can be released sometime this month.

The balloon will rise up from the high school’s football field and the entire school is expected to be on hand for the event.

To follow the students’ progress leading up to launch day, the launch itself and balloon retrieval, click here for the link.