Lightning from the Edge of Space

Lightning from the Edge of Space


To build airborne observation platforms equipped with cameras and electromagnetic sensors, to observe lightning and other electrical activity in the atmosphere from high altitude (100,000 ft). We have already launched and retrieved a balloon with camera payload (see picture) in our first year. See pictures of the launch and one taken mid-flight, from above 100,000 ft you are above the sky and can see the curvature of the Earth. Now our team works to make the platform and payload lighter, cheaper, controllable and trackable from the ground with wireless communications. We aim to add more complicated instruments, to eventually transform the balloon into a scientifically valuable tool with potential future applications to thunderstorm and severe weather forecasting. We are open to new ideas from team members about what cool and useful new capabilities to add. A longer term goal is to develop high-altitude (>50,000 ft) UAVs and gliders, which may be hoisted and dropped by a balloon, although regulatory restrictions currently make this difficult.

Issues Involved or Addressed

Detection of electromagnetic fields from lightning. Monitoring of electrical charging of thunderstorms. Prediction of thunderstorm cessation, and onset of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Detection of upper atmospheric discharges related to lightning.

Methods and Technologies

  • Circuits
  • Smartphones and GPS
  • Wireless Comms
  • Ham Radio
  • Lightweight Electric/Magnetic Field Sensors
  • Lightweight Cameras
  • Atmospheric Wind Predictions
  • Aerodynamics
  • UAVs
  • Balloons

Academic Majors of Interest

  • Electrical Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Preferred Interests and Preparation

Meeting Schedule & Location






VL 465

Team Advisors