Geography students to deploy mapping equipment

Any day now, a group of students will send a balloon 100,000 feet into the air.

The students enrolled in Geography 726, a graduate-level class revolving around remote sensing, have spent the semester designing and building a balloon they named the PHOG-NS.

The PHOG-NS will ascend into the air, pop at 100,000 feet, and then deploy a parachute carrying sensors, a camera, transmitters and a GPS back to the ground.

“We’ve had no instructions on this project. It’s all student-driven,” said Bryan Long, a graduate student who is working on the project.

Jenna Jakowatz/KANSAN The weather balloon liftoffs of the PHOG-NS balloon and sensor system outside the Lied Center.

Jenna Jakowatz/KANSAN
The weather balloon liftoffs of the PHOG-NS balloon and sensor system outside the Lied Center.

The parachute will carry a 7-pound Styrofoam-insulated cylinder that will transmit data from the air back to the team stationed in Lawrence.

“Our system is equipped to take photographs, collect barometric pressure, temperature, GPS locations which include latitude, longitude, and altitude, and we have a color infrared camera,” Long said.

On March 28, the team launched the balloon and parachute in a tethered test. The run-through was designed to give the team an idea of how the real launch will go. The team collected small amounts of data that they can examine before the official launch.

“We should have, theoretically, at 100,000 feet a ground-spatial resolution of about 10 or 11 meters,” Steven Foga, a first-year graduate student in the geography department, said. “The camera will be capturing images at three-second intervals.

We have an accelerometer, which will help us adjust for whenever the sensor is sideways. The idea is to be looking straight down so you can make ground measurements and estimations of whatever you want to study.”

Long says software will assist the group in rectifying images so that photographs taken from the air will come out flat, like in Google Earth.

The team will be able to track the parachute as it makes its way back to Earth by using its internal GPS.

Once wind pattern projections are favorable, the group will launch the balloon from Clinton Lake. It is expected to return back to the ground in the Kansas City area. By using a radio downlink, the group will be able to look at data as it is collected. The infrared monitors will capture images of vegetation health. Ideally, the images collected could help farmers improve their crop yield by seeing where in their fields their crop is struggling.

  • Updated Apr. 3, 2013 at 1:02 am
  • Edited by Madison Schultz
  • Aaron Taveras

    The website for the project:

  • John Hamilton Kelly


  • Bryan Long

    Please check the website for the projected launch date. We invite the public to come watch the release. It will be a great day.