Ball Aerospace Interns Showcase Skills On High-Altitude Balloon Launch

The BIRST payload teams take a celebratory photo before launch. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace

July 19, 2017 – The Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) successfully completed a high-altitude balloon launch on Saturday, July 15, 2017. A balloon provided by Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS) was launched from Limon, Colorado, carrying intern-designed payloads to approximately 100,000 feet.

Since 2009, Ball Aerospace interns have earned valuable space industry experience by launching payloads aboard rockets, but this was the first time the students have launched on a high-altitude balloon.

The team of 39 interns and 25 Ball mentors worked for six weeks to develop four different payloads:

  • Team 1: Used a ground station gimbal system to track payload antenna in order to maximize signal strength.

  • Team 2: Designed and engineered a payload containing both a dynamic sensor suite and a stabilized optical system that could operate while traveling upwards of 80,000 feet into Earth’s atmosphere. The system had to record stable video and environmental data while withstanding midair turbulence and extreme environmental changes.

  • Team 3: Used the extreme environmental conditions in the upper atmosphere to cool a carbonated liquid in a Ball-built 7.5 ounce can to the ideal drinking temperature. Communicated the temperature of the beverage in real-time via Twitter.

  • Team 4: Used Ball’s virtual reality lab to process and view images collected using an on-board camera. Used a sensor suite (pressure, temperature, magnetometer) to track conditions by altitude, determined spin/rate force for future BIRST teams, conducted high altitude sabermetrics (using MLB Statcast data and calculated air density from sensors.)

  • A BIRST payload team preps for launch. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace

    EOSS is a Denver, Colorado based non-profit organization that promotes science and education by exploring frontiers in amateur radio and high altitude balloons.

    The balloon provided by EOSS was hydrogen-filled latex. On the ground, the balloon was approximately 10 ft. in diameter. As it ascended through the atmosphere, the decrease in pressure allowed the balloon to expand, which made the sides of the balloon very thin. The balloon eventually burst when it reached 30-40 ft. in diameter.

    Ball interns, mentors and EOSS volunteers tracked the balloon and were able to recover all payloads, which parachuted to the ground, north of Matheson, Colorado.

    Ball Aerospace offers its interns a “cradle-to-grave” simulation of a real-world space program. Interns work a full program lifecycle on a condensed scale and carry those unique experiences forward in their careers.

    Launching on a high-altitude balloon directly simulates the collaboration between Ball Aerospace and World View Enterprises of Tucson, Arizona. The two companies launched a pathfinder mission earlier this year to demonstrate early capabilities for remote sensing/earth observation applications from the stratosphere.

    World View has developed Stratollites, a new category of above-earth vehicles that are high-tech balloons. Stratollites offer long-duration, persistent flight above specific geographical areas of interest. The balloons are designed to operate in the stratosphere and can use a solar array to offer months of uninterrupted persistence for imaging and real-time data collection, which would be prohibitive for fuel-dependent aircraft or orbiting satellites. They can also be retrieved easily and quickly by the mission team for payload and sensor modifications and rapid re-launch.

    A World View Stratollite balloon. Image Credit: World View Enterprises

    The Ball Aerospace flight in February 2017 paved the way for future flights offering higher resolution multi-spectral sensors for a wide variety of persistent remote sensing applications including public safety, homeland security, and civic resource mapping and monitoring.