MacArthur students recover wayward satellite, ready to try again
DECATUR, Feb 23, 2013 (Herald & Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It certainly seemed as if Mac 1, the satellite built and launched on Feb. 15 by a group of MacArthur High School physics students, was hopelessly lost on its maiden voyage.
That is, until teacher Kevin Aten received an email from the person who had found it.
"Greenville " Aten said, reading from his computer screen. "They found it in Greenville "
"No way," said Sam Funk, one of the students who is part of the project.
Greenville is, to put it mildly, a bit off course. The students and Aten launched the satellite, equipped with a weather balloon, a camera and a GPS system, after careful study of winds and weather, and it was supposed to land somewhere near Champaign. They "high-tailed it" to the area after letting it go in a Jacksonville cornfield and looked for it for hours before giving up and heading back to Decatur with no idea what had happened to it.
But they had taped a card to the side of the capsule with their school's name and number, and the finders called the school on Feb. 19 to report they'd found it. They were even willing to bring it home.
Aten said the students wrote a grant to the Decatur Public Schools Foundation for enough money to build and launch three satellites. A camera was mounted inside a Styrofoam cooler, and a cell-phone equipped with GPS tracking that would send the information to Aten's phone was also placed in the cooler. The weather balloon was attached to the top.
The first launch was aborted when the capsule didn't rise high enough and the group had to go in search of more helium. Turns out Wal-Mart carries helium, and they bought some and returned to the launch site to try again. That time, it soared skyward appropriately. The plan was for the capsule to reach a height of 20 miles, at which point they knew they'd lose GPS contact, but when it came back down, they would regain contact and be able to find it, Aten said.
"I was really looking forward to being able to see the curve of the Earth (on the pictures)," said student Maggie Curlin.
The plan is to send up the other two capsules, one at a time, over the next six or eight weeks, possibly from different locations, and compare the results. They'll likely place the camera differently on each one. Mac 1's camera pointed out the side of the device. The next one will probably point down, through the bottom. They plan to post their videos on YouTube and the district's cable Channel 22.
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