IMG 3338


Currently, solar observation is done either from the ground, where it is subjected to extensive atmospheric interference, or from satellites, which are extremely expensive. Observing the Sun from a high altitude balloon platform mitigates almost all atmospheric interference at a fraction of the cost of actually placing a payload into orbit. High Elevation Light Intensity Observation System V (HELIOS V) is a continuation of the University of Colorado’s HELIOS missions. It will use the solar tracking system developed during the HELIOS IV mission to capture valuable science and engineering data. Its science objectives include capturing high quality images of the Sun in the Hydrogen-Alpha wavelength to observe sunspots and possibly solar flares. The minimum criteria for success is to show that the HELIOS V system can take images with a higher angular resolution quality in the stratosphere than on the ground with the same optics system.




HELIOS V is the fifth iteration of the HELIOS program and is the first to carry the full optics system. The optics system is made up of an Orion Solar Safety filter, an Orion Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope, a Hydrogen-Alpha filter, a focus reducer, and an Image Source camera. The exact set up is detailed in the diagram below.




In the first week of August, the team will travel to the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas to run integration tests with the HASP platform. This test will ensure that the paylaod communicates properly with the HASP payload as well as check its performance in pressure and temperature extremes.


The payload launched September 1st, 2016. A portion of the team travelled to Fort Sumner, NM to assist with the launch. The flight lasted 15 hours, spanning from 10:08 AM to 3:41 AM the next day. It landed in Arizona, about 50 miles west of Prescott, AZ, for a total travelled distance of 583.97 miles. During the flight, the payload performed exceptionally well. It kept constant downlink communication with the team and did not experience any failures due to temperature.


When the payload returned to Boulder, CO, the team had found a few damages to the intermediate housing of the payload which are assumed to be due to landing. When looking at the data and pictures collected though, the team discovered a problem. The images captured by the science camera were out of focus, as seen below.  

The HELIOS V team determined that the cause of the blur was due to improper focusing of the telescope prior to flight. This was found through a failure analysis process which tested each of the brainstormed causes. The lesson learned from this was to include a locking mechanism on the focus of the telescope. This would have prevented the focus from being nudged out of the correct position. Despite this, the team learned quite a bit from their data analysis.


One of the greatest successes of the mission was the ADCS tracking. As shown in the heat map comparison below, the HELIOS V payload had a much higher success rate of getting images within video of the science camera than the HELIOS IV payload. The heat maps are a layering of the ADCS images captured during flight, showing a higher density of images the brighter the area is. 


The rest of the results can be found in the HELIOS V final science report, which you can read here.


Due to the success of the payload, the COSGC team has decided to end the HELIOS program. While there was an issue with the focusing mechanism, it is not enough to constitute a HELIOS VI mission. For HASP 2017 a new mission, Project Mirua has been selected to explore how to make expandable habitats reusable using origami methods.


Click here to read our COSGC 2016 Symposium paper! 

Click here to read our final science report!


Our Team

Project Manager: Haleigh Flaherty

Systems Engineers: Ross Kloetzel and Virginia Nystrom

Team Leads: Dawson Beatty, Colin Sullivan, and Logan Thompson

Members: Alex Mulvaney, Emma Cooper, Erin Shimoda, Samantha Palma, Joseph Frank, Daniel Green, Severyn Polakiewicz, Rebekah Haysley, Michael Catchen, and Gage Froelich




Our Sponsors


Engineering Excellence Fund

Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program 



Our Mentors: 

Fabio Mezzalira with the Sommers-Bauch Observatory

Lee Sutherland

Ryan Cutter, Paige Aurther, Kristen Hanslik, and Brandon Boiko from the HELIOS IV team