High Altitude Zeppelin Experiment launches successfully

4 photos of HAZE team

Last April, the UW High Altitude Zeppelin Experiment (HAZE) team successfully launched a high altitude, semi-rigid airship from Moses Lake. The airship was in the air for 120 minutes and landed approximately 10 kilometers northwest of Walla Walla — nearly 135 kilometers away from where it started.

“This launch was two years in the making, and involved over 20 undergraduate and graduate students from eight different departments at the university”, said Ian Johnson, team lead and Space Grant graduate fellow. The team worked in the Advanced Propulsion Laboratory in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences.

For the UW team, third time was the charm. Their two previous attempts had been scrubbed due to high winds in the jet stream.

Their goal was to test an atmospheric-optimized pulsed plasma thruster at an altitude of 100,000 feet and to show that a lightweight structure (the airship weighed less than 12 pounds) could survive the powerful forces of the jet stream and serve as a test bed for thruster operations. The team created the triangular truss structure from carbon fiber rods and 3D-printed interconnects.

“Testing in the controlled environment of the laboratory is relatively straightforward, testing in the atmospheric is drastically more complicated due to large distances, low temperatures, and high wind,” Johnson said.

A three-minute video of the flight shows the curve of the Earth, as well as the Columbia and Snake rivers viewed from above. The payload included an onboard GPS, which allowed for real-time tracking of the airship.



The HAZE project was a continuation of the thruster research started with the UW LEAF team in 2013 (see the video). Members of the HAZE team are now looking to push their research further into space.

The student research crew recently formed a CubeSat team, with the goal of competing in the NASA’s Centennial Cube Quest Challenge. CubeSats allow undergraduates and graduate students access to space at a fraction of the cost of a traditional satellite.

The HAZE flight gave the team a chance to test the potential propulsion system for the CubeSat, Johnson said. It also allowed testing of the power processing unit (batteries) and microprocessor (computer) in an environment outside of the laboratory, moving the project closer to flight readiness.

If the CubeSat team’s device is one of the handful chosen by NASA, it will be launched off the Orion lunar capsule in 2018.

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