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HELIOS (Hydrogen-Alpha Exploration with Light Intensity Observation System) III is the third iteration of the HELIOS project. Our mission was to ascend on the HASP high altitude balloon platform to a height of approximately 36 kilometers to track the sun and take solar images in the hydrogen-alpha wavelength.

Solar observation is currently achieved from the ground or from orbiting satellites. Unfortunately, images from the ground are subject to extensive atmospheric interference and satellites, such as NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), are extremely expensive. HELIOS hopes to prove the viability of solar observation from a high altitude balloon platform, a cheap and effective alternative. High altitude balloon platforms ascend over 95% of the Earth's atmosphere and are relatively inexpensive.

HELIOS III integrated with HASP late July 2014 in Palestine, Texas and launched mid August 2014 from Fort Sumner, New Mexico for a flight duration of approximately eight hours.


Design Overview

HELIOS III is comprised of a base housing and a camera housing. The camera housing is able to rotate horizontally along the azimuth and is controlled by a stepper motor. The system has two L-shaped photodiode housings that contains two photodiodes, one on each arm of the housing. The microcontroller (a Raspberry Pi) analyzes the difference between the two photodiode readings and instructs the motors to turn the housing accordingly. 

The camera housing encases a camera with a field of view of appoximately 1.5 by 2.0 degrees. Once the photodiodes have focused on a light source, the motor moves the housing to face the sun. Because the system does not have movement along elevation, our tracking window is limited to to the time frame during which the sun is at the correct elevation to be seen by the camera. 

Click here to read our Research Paper

Click here to see our flight path

The system encountered several major failures throughout flight, the most prominent being the inability to turn on elevation, drastically decreasing the payload's tracking window. Despite this, the system tracked the sun relatively well throughout flight. The camera took a picture every four seconds for a total of over 6000 images. Approximately 1.19% of the total images contained the sun and approximately half of the images taken during the system's tracking window contained the sun.


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                                                           one of 75 images containing the sun


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Our Members

Project Manager: Paige Arthur

Systems Engineers: Cooper Benson and Kristen Hanslik

Members: Ryan Cutter, Brandon Boiko, Dylan Richards, Ryan Tabler, Flor Gordivas, Becca Lidvall, Chris Bradford, Chris Rouw, Andrew Dudney, Xiang Wang, Griffin Esposito, Mattia Astarita, Jorge Cervantes, Matt Haney, Justin Alvey, Tyler Lugger, Alec Fiala

Our Sponsors

Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA)

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)

Engineering Excellence Fund (EEF)


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