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SUNY ESF balloon payload was once lost, now is found

Ellen Abbott
The payload that was attached to a weather balloon launched by SUNY ESF students has been found.

What goes up must come down, and luckily for researchers at SUNY ESF in Syracuse, a weather balloon they launched just over a month ago from their Syracuse campus, was finally discovered along a remote area in Cortland County.

The project was part of the Global Space Balloon Challenge, and engineering students, led by professor Giorgos Mountrakis, fashioned the high-altitude balloon so it could carry information-gathering electronics thousands of miles high.

After a late April launch, students lost track of balloon and it’s payload after it reached a height of over 110,000 feet in the atmosphere. They believed the payload, which included a cell phone, a tiny computer and cameras, came down in a wooded area in Cuyler, in a cell signal dead zone. But they were optimistic the payload could be found.


"We knew it landed in the woods. That’s why we didn’t get the signal. So we had to find someone who would be at the right place at the right time," Mountrakis said.

And that turned out to be a hiker walking near the Cuyler-Linklean Road, 30 miles southeast of Syracuse,

"He says he saw something unusual in the woods there. His description was that it was about four to six feet from the ground, hanging from a branch."

Mountrakis and his students were relieved.

"My reaction was seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for a while," said the professor.

All the electronics inside are in good working order, and students got the pictures they wanted, and will be able to present their project in the global competition.

Going forward, Mountrakis expects this won’t be the last space balloon launched from campus.

"It’s really cool to have it back, and in such good shape.  It really helps creates in a way, a legacy of balloons within ESF.”