The weather balloon station at the Cape is capable of launching, tracking and receiving environmental data from balloons carrying data transmission units to high altitudes. Techniques for receiving the data have changed over the years as technology has provided more efficient and accurate methods of sending the data.
Most balloons carried aloft a small box containing weather sensor and a transmitter to returning the information to the same weather station that launched the balloon. The weather sensors returned information such as temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. Actually tracking the balloon could provide additional information concerning high altitude wind direction and speed.
Early balloons were tracked using the Meteorological Sounding System Antenna, a dish antenna mounted inside a protective radome. The radome containing the antenna, is now an exhibit at the museum.
Current systems still carry the normal weather measuring sensors and transmitter, but the need for tracking the package from the ground is no longer necessary. A Global Positioning System (GPS) device inside the package provides tracking information to the transmitter for relay back to the ground site. In effect, the balloon sensor package tells the ground station where it is at all times.
At the end of a mission, usually triggered by the bursting of the balloon at high altitude, results in a small parachute being deployed so that the package is returned gently to the ground to minimize potential damage to anything on the ground. There was a time when people were encouraged to mail any found sensors back to a supply point, but the inexpensive nature of the devices has made that process uneconomical and unnecessary.