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CCC&TI Students Take 2nd Place in Statewide High-Altitude Balloon Competition

Published: 5/26/2022

A group of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) and Caldwell Early College High School (CECHS) students have reached new heights – literally.

The group, named Kármán Seekers, competed earlier this spring in the statewide NASA/NC Space Grant Community College High-Altitude Balloon Competition at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) in Hickory, falling short of a first-place finish by only a few points.

CCC&TI tied with Wake Tech for second place in the overall competition, with Nash Community College topping the competition rankings. At 92,205 feet, CCC&TI’s team was only 1,500 feet short of the top altitude in the competition. The team won the award for Closest to Predicted Landing Site at approximately 15.5 miles. The balloon landed near the Alamance and Chatham County line in wooded area. The next closest competitor landed their balloon 26 miles from the predicted site.

The approximately 6-month competition consisted of several components ranging from the design of the balloon payload and launch system to community outreach. The main goal of the competition was to design, build and launch a payload equipped with sensors and cameras, carried by a helium balloon, to the edge of space (20 miles up) and hopefully, recover it.

The Kármán Seekers, named for the Kármán Line that represents the barrier between space and Earth’s atmosphere, was one of only five teams that were able to complete this mission. The team successfully designed, built, launched and recovered the payload with photos and video from the entire flight. The balloon and payload, flying from CVCC to the Pittsboro area, reached nearly 17.5 miles in altitude and was recovered completely intact. The total flight time was approximately three hours and 146 miles east of the CVCC campus.

View of the earth from 92 thousand feet

A view of Earth from the Kármán Seekers High-Altitude Balloon Team’s highest altitude of approximately 92,000 feet.

The team consisted of seven students from CCC&TI and CECHS. Team members included two co-captains: Zach St. Pierre and Brianna Campbell. Other team members included: Charles Hagaman, Daniel Ward, Lila Bennett and Sarah McLean. Cameron Williams, a student from CECHS, also participated as a student helper. The faculty mentors for the team were: Lucas McGuire, Denise Williams, Mandy Williams and Mel Rhoney.

Karman Seeker Team Photo

The Kármán Seekers High-Altitude Balloon Team. Left to right: Zach St. Pierre, Daniel Ward, Lila Bennett, Charles Hagaman, Briana Campbell,Cameron Williams and Sarah McLean.

“This project provided a great way for the students to work together as a team and showcase the wide-ranging skill sets that they have acquired while at our institution,” said McGuire, CCC&TI’s Program Director for Biomedical Equipment Technology and Electronics Engineering Technology. “I couldn’t be prouder of the students’ effort and performance, as well as the support of faculty and administration.”

The team win and trip to space extended beyond the competitors and advisors. As part of the project’s community outreach, CCC&TI’s library staff hosted an art contest for students. The winning entry, designed by Matthew Boyle, decorated the balloon’s payload with a colorful logo to go with the return label in case the team couldn’t find it upon landing. It was a campus wide effort, McGuire said.

Congratulations to the Kármán Seekers and their hard work in this competition.

The balloon's payload with artwork

Artwork for the Kármán Seekers High-Altitude Balloon Team’s payload was designed by student Matthew Boyle.