Durham Tech high-altitude balloon team competes in state competition

Durham Tech’s sent its six-person high-altitude balloon team to compete in the statewide competition March 2 in Catawba. 

The 10 teams competing launched their high-altitude balloons (HABs) filled with a payload of one required experiment and three additional experiments. The balloons reach an altitude of 20 miles above Earth and must be strong enough to carry the payload and all the components of the experiments.  

The results of the competition won’t be announced until mid-April , but Durham Tech’s team was pleased with how they did. 

“Our team was outstanding this year and they produced excellent projects. Each member of the team was enthusiastic, and it was no trouble to get the students to meet because the project development made friends out of them,” said Dr. Flavio Albuquerque, the HAB advisor who also is the director, chairman and instructor for the Associate in Engineering program at Durham Tech. “We had students from IT, emergency management, criminal justice, engineering and electronics on our team, and each of them brought something unique to our project. This team is a commitment.  We have been working on our experiments since September of 2023.” 

Along with the required experiment, this year’s team decided on three additional experiments. The first explored the effects of radiation on 3D materials at a high altitude, with the goal of getting insight into how best to protect items taken into space. The second experiment studied packet loss over a Wi-Fi network at high altitude.  A packet is how information is sent over the network. Ping was used to measure data packets sent, received, and time in transit between several devices in the payload. For the third additional experiment, the Durham Tech HAB team used a cellphone to communicate with and record data from the balloon. By being in contact with the balloon and recording the data, the students would not lose everything if their balloon had been downed or lost.  

“Last year our balloon was downed and lost for a day,” Alburquerque said. “This experiment was powerful.  All our experiments were stellar, and we got the attention of all who participated and even the organizer of the event.”  

This year's team also had an innovative redesign of the parachute release mechanism to be more compact and lightweight,” said Kim Green, HAB Team member.   

Along with the experiments, the HAB team worked with Girl Scout troops and area schools.  Teams are given points for doing the outreach, and Durham Tech’s HAB students did several talks about high-altitude balloons and their experiments for the Girl Scouts and public K-12 schools.