Overview of the content

This lesson gives an overview of the engineering track, including its many system components and related software.
We will introduce aspects of planning a field campaign. Although you will learn more about this topics as we go along, this lesson will offer an introduction to the scheduling and materials you will need for your ballooning mission.
We will also explore the importance of teamwork; the varioius roles each person may play; and the importance of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access throughout every step of our missions (and beyond).


NEW resource (March 2024): Managing Conflict and Dealing with Intense Situations

The eclipse campaigns are intense situations and might bring up discord. We want to provide some tips to consider having in mind prior to the April eclipse. This resource Includes: what is conflict and where does it come from; styles of conflict; managing conflict; and a difficult conversations worksheet. [This resource is located outside of this lesson on another section of the website.]

Learning objectives

After completting this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the main goals and system components of the NEBP engineering track
  • Be able to prepare a schedule for the days leading up to the launch as well as launch day itself
  • Be familiar with and able to assign roles to the team members
  • Understand how to build a strong team
  • Understand the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility

Contents below:

NEBP Engineering Track

The presentation below highlights the technical engineering systems used to safely and successfully capture real-time video and data from a high-altitude weather balloon during the October 14, 2023 annular eclipse and the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse.  The engineering POD leads and their students have been carefully designing, documenting and testing the systems that will be distributed to the participating forty engineering teams. [The slide below is included in the presentation]

Overview of engineering components

System components include

  • an Iridium tracking system,
  • a cutdown system,
  • a tracking ground station,
  • a streaming video system,
  • a dual camera system providing 360 degree views,
  • a helium vent valve system for latex balloons,
  • zero pressure balloons,
  • temperature sensors,
  • pressure sensors and
  • precision GPS sensors.

Software to support the system components include

  • a real time tracking website, and
  • tracking ground station code, dual camera and streaming code, along with the embedded code.

Participating teams will learn the systems and have an opportunity to create their own payload.

View the presentation

Overview of all the hardware, software and systems used by the engineering track [28 slides; view in SlideShare]

Tips for planning a mission


  • We build redundancy into our flight system and packing plan.
  • Know the system well enough to solve a problem quickly.
  • We cannot anticipate everything—know the system.
  • Be well trained.


  • Learn something new every flight.
  • Teach a teammate something new every flight.
  • Communicate clearly & listen respectfully.
  • Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

More tips

See some excellent resources on safety, contingency planning and more in Atmospheric Science Track Lesson 5.

Advice for new teams

video screenshot

This short video from Suzanne Smith (University of Kentucky) and Eric Kelsey (Plymouth State University) gives some excellent advice for new teams and some tips for practicing launches. [YouTube, 3:45, closed captioned]

Scheduling and operations checklist

This section will help youdevelop a sample schedule for the days leading up to launch day as well as a launch day schedule. Below is a case study and sample time table. You can also download this section as a PDF (same content).

Sample case study and schedule: Discovery Museum and University of Bridgeport

Mission overview

A High Balloon (HAB) mission consists of a latex balloon that is capable of carrying a cluster of experiments to near space. These balloons are filled with helium or hydrogen and expand as they ascend through Earth’s atmosphere. The objects that are attached to a HAB are often referred to as the payload train and each payload serves a particular purpose. HAB missions must include a parachute, radar reflector, and communication tracker.

The Discovery Museum, working closely with the University of Bridgeport, aims to teach and motivate students to pursue STEM fields. The Discovery-1 HAB mission was a trial launch where the museum tested its launch, tracking and recovery capabilities. The payload was equipped with an array of telemetry equipment such as the Tiny-Tracker, a hand-held long range radio and an antenna. The payload also consisted of a ‘Cut-down’ mechanism which was built using a breadboard.

Timetable: T-minus 1 week


Run Flight Path Prediction

Run High Altitude Coordinating Meeting

Assign Mission Coordinators

Contact chase boats and chase cars

Contact guests for Launch Day and alert media


Review all checklists and operational plans for payload setup, launch day operations, recovery operations, flight notifications


Perform preflight test of payload and determine operational readiness state

Inventory materials, equipment and supplies and order necessary consumables

Radio Room

Perform preflight test of mission operations center and determine operational readiness state


T-minus 3 days


Run Flight Path Prediction and review with coordinators

Confirm readiness of recovery teams and determine preliminary staging locations for chase boats and chase cars


Confirm Guests for Launch Day

Radio Room/Mission Control

Ground station readiness review


T-minus 1 day


Run Flight Path Prediction and review with coordinators

Review Launch Day order of events

Notify FAA

Notify Coast Guard



Stage all Launch Material

Begin charging batteries for payload, radio and computers

Stage payload train

Measure final mass of payload

Perform balloon burst calculation to determine required nozzle lift for 5 m/s ascent rate

Stage container with required nozzle lift ballast

Measure the correct quantity of water in a jug for correct neck lift

Confirm launch time and inform mission coordinators

Inform chase boats and chase cars of GO/NO-GO, and if GO, locations and times for staging


Hold GO/NO GO Meeting


Launch Day


Run Flight Path Prediction and review with coordinators



Assemble at gathering point to execute job assignments


Final check of launch site materials

Loading Dock

Load canisters of helium onto transport

Load launch supplies onto transport

Launch Site

Weather check of cloud cover and wind speeds at launch site

Radio Room

Setup ground station

Launch Site

Setup launch site

Radio Room

Radio check with launch site

Radio Room

Run Flight Path Prediction and review with coordinators

Radio chase boats and chase cars staging

Launch Site

Inflate balloon and test nozzle lift
Tie off balloon to backup anchor
Activate balloon payload
Test payload for APRS broadcast
Caulk payload lid
Rig up payload harness
Rig payload train: balloon, parachute, radar reflector and payload
Test payload for APRS broadcast
Tune Radio - APRS freq
Rig up nichrome wire cut-down cable on tether - Test cut down for continuity
Rig payload train to balloon


Test BaseApp COM with payload
Call ATC @203-378-4106

Run Flight Path Prediction and review with coordinators

Radio chase boats and chase cars: GO FOR LAUNCH

Poll all mission coordinators for final GO/NO GO for Launch



Call ATC

Radio Room

Chase boats and chase cars maintain active tracking of payload


Radio recovery crews to go on active recovery status


Track descent of balloon


Call ATC


Maintain contact with recovery teams while they attempt to acquire visual contact


Radio latest APRS locations to chase teams as payload descends


Alert all chase teams that visual contact has been acquired


Deploy nearest available recovery assets to last known location of payload


Radio assets not in recovery range to stand down


Chase teams perform search, contact and recovery operations to retrieve payload


Chase team that establishes contact with the downed payload radios base


Recover payload


Return payload to base for analysis


Radio all chase teams that the payload has been recovered and on route to base


Call ATC


Confirm that land and sea chase teams have received “END OF MISSION” contact and can formally stand down and return to base

Mission Operation

Ground station Team

  • Switch ON equipment – Power supply, Rotator controller and computer interface, Radio.
  • Open BaseApp
  • Set the antenna (azimuth and elevation) towards the payload launch site
  • Match radio frequency with the payload frequency
  • Setup communication between radio, base app and the payload
  • Test CUT-OFF mechanism using a LED light
  • Clear cache memory
  • Communicate lift off with the recovery and the launch team
  • Track Payload using aprs.fi
  • Maintain radio contact with recovery team and update information continously.

Launch Team

  • Divide the team into two.
  • Alpha team is in charge of balloon.
  • Beta team is in charge of payload and other functionalities related to the payload and payload electronics.
Alpha Team
  • All members of alpha team should have their cotton gloves on while handling the balloon
  • Lay the cylinder of the helium on the floor horizontally and attach the pressure gauge using the wrench
  • Make sure there is free flow of the gas through the nozzle
  • Using very little air pressure, fill the balloon to unfold it completely
  • Tie the water jug to the neck of the balloon with the nozzle
  • At a steady flow rate, fill the balloon with helium until the balloon can lift the water jug by itself.
  • Make sure the balloon is correctly fastened to the payload train
  • Make sure the balloon is twisted and folded before it is fastened to the payload train
Bravo Team
  • They are in charge of the payload
  • Lay out the payload train
    • Payload
    • Radar reflector
    • Parachute
    • Balloon
  • Make sure the battery is completely charged
  • Setup communications with the ground station and payload
  • Turn off the wifi on the GoPro
  • (Settings on Radio)
    • Payload tiny track
    • Ground station tiny track
  • Payload electrical settings

Recovery Team

  • Should consist of two chase cars and two chase boats
  • Each vehicle is equipped with a long range HAM radio antenna
  • Each vehicle should have three personnel or more – Driver/Pilot, navigator and HAM Radio operator
  • The navigator will have a laptop with “Direwolf-1.2” tracking software and should be trained to use the software
  • The driver shall take directions from the navigator and concentrate on the road
  • HAM Radio operator would maintain constant communication with other chase vehicles and the ground station updating his location

Team member roles

video screenshot

This short video gives an overview of various roles that ballooning team members may play on and before launch day. FeaturingMike Walach of Montana State University and James Flaten of University of Minnesota. [Closed captioned, 3:25 on YouTube]

You may also enjoy learning about the roles of Atmospheric Science team members. Featuring Suzanne Smith, University of Kentucky. [2:51 on YouTube, closed captioned] 

The chart below lists possible team roles and responsibilities.

You may also download this chart as a PDF (same content)



Call sign


Adult Mentor


Flight Director


The person ultimately responsible for the flight, the safety of the flight, the launch team, and all flight day operations. The flight director has final discretion on whether or not to launch. The flight director relies on input from the rest of the launch team in making the final go/no go decision.


Weather Officer


Responsible for assuring weather conditions are within launch limits. Monitors winds, precipitation, lightning, and any other meteorological issues that may prevent a safe flight.


Range Safety Officer


Responsible for the safety of the range. Make sure there are no obstructions to launch, that there are no aircraft in the traffic pattern or waiting to takeoff. Also responsible for first aide supplies and is the first responder in the event of a medical issue.


Payload Officer


Responsible for assuring that all payloads are turned on and function properly and are ready for flight. The PAYLO will rely on individual payload specialists to make sure all payloads are working and transmitting data as required. Responsible for making sure the flight termination system has been connected properly and is powered on  and ready for flight.


Telemetry and Tracking Officer


Responsible for making sure that iridium is on and transmitting data. Will make sure idle has been sent and received before powering on flight termination systems. Will make sure that SPOT is on and transmitting position and that spot and iridium are properly secured for flight.


Data acquisition and Processing Officer


Responsible for making sure data is being received from all payloads that transmit data and that the data is being received in the correct format.


Ground Station Officer


Responsible for making sure all ground station hardware is operating and pointing correctly. Responsible for the alignment and calibration of the ground control station(s). In charge of the setup of physical ground station hardware and software.


Airspace and Compliance Officer


Will make sure all paperwork has been filed with the FAA. Will coordinate with the Salt Lake City ARTCC. Will confirm that the 30-minute call has been made to Center.




Responsible for the fill of the balloon. Will coordinate the transportation of the lifting gas, set up of regulators, and will control the fill. Will need to confirm the lift calculations have been made and are correct for the payload weight, and the size of the balloon.


Load and Requisition Officer


Responsible for making sure all vehicles are loaded with launch day supplies, food, water, first aide and fire safety. Will coordinate the requisition of launch day supplies as needed.




Responsible for the balloon and the balloon spares if required. Will organize the layout of balloon fill area minus lifting gas. Will coordinate with FILL to assure the fill areas is set properly with drop cloths and sheets to protect the launch vehicle. Will physically launch the balloon.


Recovery Officer


Will capture LAT/LONG of payload upon landing, identify landowner, coordinate the recovery operation and will assist in making first contact with property owners. Will assure that all payloads have been recovered and that payloads are secured for transport back to the lab. Will assure all team members follow leave no trace, and best practices for crossing private land.




Responsible for filming launch, taking pictures and video before and during launch, and responsible for flight monitoring video and/or camera systems such as GOPRO, DSLR, 360 (not responsible for the Pi camera or streaming video).

Adult Mentor


Chief Engineering Officer


Responsible for all technical issues and support that cannot be solved by mission specialists. Will support all missions as needed.


Building a strong team

~Team exercise by Dr. Jani Pallis, University of Bridgeport

As you may know, going to Mars is a now a “career opportunity” and NASA also will send the next man and first woman to the Moon in the year 2025/2026 timeframe.

Please read excerpts from this article about “conscientiousness” and consider the following:

  1. Discuss how “conscientiousness” in this article relates to your personal participation on the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP).
  2. Develop a plan to improve your own “conscientiousness” over the course of the NEBP project. (If you are maintaining an “NEBP Project Notebook” include this plan in your notebook and track your progress.)

Conscientiousness, defined as "wishing to do what is right, especially to do one's work or duty well and thoroughly," has emerged as the key trait requirement for astronauts that will live and work on the surface of Mars millions of miles from Earth, according to a new study.

The astronauts selected for the first human mission to Mars will need to have more than "the right stuff." People on this very long mission will need to possess an eagerness for doing the right thing, too. This trait (conscientiousness) was identified as more important than honesty, humility, emotionality, extroversion, openness and agreeableness.

"Conscientiousness, an individual personality trait, can be thought of as a pooled team-resource," said the study's author. "The more conscientiousness a team is, the better they will likely be at accomplishing tasks."

Conversely, traits like "social loafing," or the habit of a team member putting in less effort than when they work solo, are undesirable in a potential Marstronaut. Traits that seem counterproductive and negative behaviors are likely to cause more trouble and disruptions in a team environment. The researchers consider these traits and behavior "non-negotiable" for long-duration spaceflight crews.

A careful focus on crew selection, emphasizing effective communication and very detailed work and planning processes, could help avoid any negative factors. "Anyone who has worked on a team knows conflict amongst team members can harm team performance and make for a negative experience. When people argue about how to get things done, or get into personal disagreements, there is less time and energy left for completing tasks," the author said. "What's interesting is that there are different types of conflict, and so long as interpersonal issues and arguments about how to go about accomplishing tasks are avoided, differences in views and opinions might actually improve team performance likely because this allows for the team to benefit from each member's knowledge and perspective."

  1. Renaud, Jeff. “ ‘Conscientiousness’ key to team success during space missions” Western News, November 18, 2020, https://news.westernu.ca/2020/11/getting-along-in-space/

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility

"If we want to ensure our workforce reflects the diversity of the public we serve, we need individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, skills, and abilities that can bring unique perspectives, and life experiences, to tackle highly complex challenges to achieve NASA’s mission."
~NASA, 2015: Promising Practices for Equal Opportunity, Diversity, and Inclusion

You may have heard the terms or acronomys of DEI or DEIA. What does this mean, and why is it important?

Below is a quote from an unknown author:

  • Accessibility is being able to get into the building. 
  • Diversity is getting invited to the table.
  • Inclusion is having a voice at the table.
  • Belonging is having your voice heard at the table!

To this, we would add an explanation of equity (in contrast to equality): 

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities, whereasEquity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.  [Source: The George Washington University School of Public Health] These resources and opportunities might be different for each person involved.

Diversity, inclusion, and accessibilty are vital to ensure a safe and supportive environment for all NEBP team members.

The type of fieldwork that is part of NEBP can present unique challenges for DEIA, including:

  • Long hours
  • High stress environment, and
  • Physically challenging work, among others

Clear policies and expectations are important. Begin thinking now and how we can work around these challenges to achieve a supportive and inclusive environment for all NEBP participants?

Extended learning

Implicit bias is an automatic reaction we have towards other people. These attitudes and stereotypes can negatively impact our understanding, actions, and decision-making. The idea that we can hold prejudices we don’t want or believe was quite radical when it was first introduced, and the fact that people may discriminate unintentionally continues to have implications for understanding disparities in so many aspects of society, including but not limited to health care, policing, and education, as well as organizational practices like hiring and promotion.

Project Implicit logoProject Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaborative of researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition—attitudes and beliefs that are largely outside of our conscious awareness and control.

The organization offers a number of free, online Implicit Association Tests (IAT) that advance your own self-understanding of the attitude or stereotype of topics including race, gender, sexuality, age and weight, among others. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about.

We recommending taking the online tests in private. You may choose to report your results anonymously to the research team or simply view them privately. You do not need to share your results with your NEBP or classmates. You may be surprised at what you find.

Visit Project Implicit, then click TAKE A TEST. You may choose from several tests. Because we are a STEM project, we recommend, in particular, that you take the Gender-Science IAT

The IAT site is designed for adults, aged 18 or older.


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