News at the University of New Brunswick

UNB engineering students successfully launch weather balloon into near space

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Aug 5, 2021

Category: UNB Fredericton

Three engineering students from the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus took their passion for aerospace to new heights as they successfully launched and recovered their high-altitude weather balloon (HAB) from the Earth’s stratosphere.

The project was initiated and led by first-year mechanical engineering student Jagriti Luitel, who found inspiration for the project from a YouTube video of a HAB with a GoPro inside which captured images of space. To get the project off the ground, Luitel recruited group members Ryan Whitney, a third-year electrical engineering student, and John Estafanos, a second-year mechanical engineering student.

A HAB is a balloon with meteorological equipment inside which can be sent into the stratosphere to collect information about the weather. In recent years, HABs have also been used to test satellite equipment and capture near space cinematography.

In November 2020, the group launched their initiative StratoFredericton. As they prepared to build their first HAB, the team worked together to discuss engineering project management, technical details, legal regulations and funding applications.

“This project started out as a very personal goal for me,” says Luitel. “I have a keen interest in aerospace and was looking for ways to explore that. I knew initiating a project would expand my horizon in ways I did not know were possible at the time.”

“I wanted this project to carry some symbolic meaning as well. I decided to contact a local organization called the New Brunswick Environmental Network to send their logo and a message from their side and capture it in front of the curvature of the Earth,” says Luitel. “It would be a message that the youth of New Brunswick cares about the environment and takes climate change seriously. They agreed and I went on to hand paint it on a poster to add an artistic touch.”

Luitel and her team received the Engineering Endowment Fund from the UNB Engineering Undergraduate Society. The fund offers small-to-medium grants to encourage engineering students to pursue meaningful co-curricular projects and experiences.

“Receiving the Engineering Endowment Fund has been one of the most important aspects of StratoFredericton's success,” says Luitel. “The fund really helped us get off the ground, which turned our idea into something concrete and attainable. I am very grateful to the engineering faculty for making this available to students.”

Luitel was the recipient of the Thomas Family Scholarship, the Merlene Perkins Memorial Scholarship and Dr. Florence Snodgrass Bursary Fund for New Brunswick Students. She also works as a research assistant for CubeSat NB at UNB. CubeSat NB is a partnership project between UNB, the New Brunswick Community College and the Université de Moncton to build New Brunswick’s first-ever cube satellite.

On June 20, the team successfully launched their HAB 103,000 ft. into the stratosphere. The balloon was in the air for approximately two hours and 25 minutes and located on Grand Lake by a couple out canoeing. The couple called the team using information provided on a waterproof contact information card.

“My hope going into this experience was to learn lessons on aerospace engineering, leadership, teamwork and just to have fun,” says Luitel. “I faced challenges when it came to exposure and taking credit as a female in a male-dominated field. I managed this by calling myself the project lead as I was doing all the duties of one, creating exposure about the project and by making one of our mission objectives ‘inspire leadership in STEM especially for girls.’

“Our next steps are to share this journey as much as possible. I hope this will inspire people to take initiative and believe that incredible feats can be achieved. All it takes is a sense of unwavering self-belief.”

Read more about Lutiel and her teams journey launching a HAB on her personal blog.

Media contact: Kathleen McLaughlin

Photo: An image from the StratoFredericton HAB’s journey to the stratosphere. Credit: StratoFredericton