A giant weather balloon with a locator beacon will be launched into “near space” from the Iowa State University campus this weekend as part of a test of the Iowa Civil Air Patrol search and rescue team. The patrol’s Captain Doug Jansen says the twenty-foot tall balloon will take a fast trip virtually straight up.Jansen says the balloon should zoom up to 70-thousand feet, carrying the beacon which can be heard statewide by receiver stations. It should touch down somewhere around Grinnell or Newton, though wind and other weather conditions could push it farther. Jansen explains why the beacon, known as an Emergency Locator Transmitter or E-L-T, is on board.The Civil Air Patrol tracks missing airplanes and will use the practice beacon for a full dress rehearsal, since they don’t know exactly where or when it’ll come down. The balloon itself will burst when it gets to a certain altitude, roughly 13 miles up, and then the payload will float back to earth on a parachute. He says the folks in central Iowa should be watchful.The parachute is red-and-gold striped, carrying a payload that’s about one-foot square. The beacon is similar to the ones that are found in the back of aircraft and will help the Civil Air Patrol search and rescue teams hone their skills. Three airplanes and fifty volunteers are expected to participate in Saturday’s exercise, starting with the launch about 7 A.M.
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