Billionaire Richard Branson may have been celebrating the next step in his quest to make commercial space flights viable this week, but students at Clark Magnet High School also have been busy at work analyzing their own near-space flight.
The students launched a high-altitude balloon that reached 85,000 feet over the Angeles National Forest Sunday to collect photos and video from near-space.
"Launching a high-altitude balloon is about 99% the same as going to space, and it's as close as you can get without a very expensive, massive rocket," said Clark teacher David Black, who oversaw the launch.
The payload, named "Panther 2," was launched from Soledad Canyon Road in Acton at 12:10 p.m. and, after taking 500 photos during its flight, landed at the intersection of Angeles Forest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road.
"When we watched the balloon go, we hoped for the best, but really had no idea if we'd ever see it again," Black said. "It's amazing that we were able to recover it."
Black and his students were able to track the balloon by following its locater.
Along with its other gear, the balloon also was equipped with a carbon monoxide sensor. Data logged during the flight will help students determine over the next few weeks if the smog from the greater Los Angeles area hangs over the Angeles National Forest at higher altitudes.
This launch follows that of last year's Panther 1, which gained a peak altitude of 103,126 feet.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.