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Course overview

This course offers an introduction to academic scientific ballooning and a NASA-funded project called the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP). The course previews an upcoming field campaign during which teams across the nation will launch weather balloons into the stratosphere and collect data during two solar eclipses: an annular eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, and a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Students in this course will study past eclipse ballooning flight campaigns and learn about common engineering platforms and payloads; sensors, electronics and data loggers; communication with ground stations; FAA regulations related to uncrewed balloon flights; and how to collect, analyze, and share eclipse ballooning data. Additionally, students will acquire complementary skills that support a future STEM career including teamwork, project management, communication, and how to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access in STEM.

Some participating teams will present this content as part of an instructor-led course in Spring 2023; other participating team members will access this content in an asynchronous manner. No matter the method, all content included in this course outline should be studied prior to Pod Leader workshops in May 2023 and student work in Summer 2023.

Prerequisites for this course material 


Learning objectives

Students who complete this course will:

  • Identify the details of planning a scientific stratospheric ballooning field campaign
  • Understand foundational information about eclipses, balloon flight trajectories, Earth’s atmosphere, and meteorology
  • Be able to design experiments and investigations for a ballooning field campaign
  • Know how to carry out science/engineering balloon-launch campaigns during eclipses
  • Apply best practices for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating results
  • Develop and apply STEM career skills such as communication, teamwork, and project management.
  • Exemplify foundational principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access in STEM.


No textbook is required for this course. Students will access scientific papers, multimedia modules, NASA websites, and other resources. All materials are open source and will be provided electronically/online. Internet access is required.

Recommended Schedule

This content has been organized into 16 lessons (roughly the equivalent of one lesson per week over a standard college semester). Lessons may take approximately 3 hours each for a rough total of 48 hours, but please note that some lessons have more content than others, and all students learn at different paces, so instructors and teams can use their discretion. If modified to fit a quarter system, we recommend pacing the material over two quarters rather than packing it into one. It can also be accessed in a self-paced fashion; use the rough estimate of 48 hours as your pacing guide.

Video playlists

NEW: Posted 5/7/23

Intro to NEBP ballooning

This video playlist is an excellent introductory overview of ballooning from A to Z, including:

  • Welcome video
  • Mission planning
  • Advice to new teams
  • Safety considerations
  • Contingency planning: What could go wrong and how to prepare

Engineering Track basics

This video playlist includes the above plus more detail specific to the engineering track, such as 

  • Team member roles
  • Prediction software
  • Choosing a launch site
  • Landing and recovery

All videos in the playlists are also included in the detailed lessons below.

NOTE: This course includes many external links, including some NEBP documents and presentations that are hosted on and SCRIBD. These items are free to view and download, although as both are commercial sites, they may encourage you to purchase a subscription or other features. YOU DO NOT NEED TO SUBSCRIBE OR PURCHASE ANYTHING IN ORDER TO ACCESS THE NEBP MATERIALS.

We are committed to making all NEBP resources accessible to all people; if you are unable to access the resources for any reason, or would like to request them to be provided in alternate formats, please email

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project

Lesson 2: Introduction to scientific ballooning

  • Lighter-than-air ballooning
  • Stratospheric weather ballooning
  • My STEM Career: How to use and document your NEBP experiences for your future.
    • NOTE: You will be introduced to this topic in Lesson 2, and it will become an important component throughout the project. Each subsequent lesson will include a reminder and a link to this page so you can document your journey into ballooning and all the new skills you learn.
  • This lesson also includes optional instructor material that will be quite useful for those who are new to ballooning: Stratospheric Ballooning for Educators: Getting Started

Lesson 3: Eclipses and Heliophysics

  • Eclipses and heliophysics – historical, contemporary, and worldviews
  • Citizen science and other SciAct projects

Lesson 4: Overview of the engineering track and keys to a successful campaign 

  • Introduction to the Engineering track and system components
  • How to plan a field campaign – teamwork, roles, materials, scheduling
    • New video posted 4/4/23: Advice for new teams
    • Schedule for the days leading up to launch day as well as a launch day schedule.
    • Flight day roles
    • New (Posted 4/2/23): Video on team member roles
  • Building a strong team - exercise
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access in STEM 

Lesson 5: Weather, Earth's atmosphere and gravity waves

  • Earth’s atmosphere and meteorology
  • Gravity waves

Lesson 6: Ballooning missions and payloads

  • Basic ballooning and payloads – lift, launch, retrieval, payload stringing
  • Mission planning – Project management, constraints, risks, safety, and operations
  • Journey of a Scientific Balloon - including Pre-Flight and Inflation, Launch, Ascent, Burst & Descent, and Landing and Recovery

NEW: Safety and risk video - posted 4/2/23

NEW: Choosing a launch site video - posted 5/4/23

Lesson 7: Electronics, programming and mechanics

This lesson covers all the fundamental electronics, programming, and mechanics skills you will need for working on the payloads and ground stations; camera systems; single board computers; sensors, etc.

  • Arduino
  • Onshape
  • Soldering

Lesson 8: Payloads and ground stations

This lesson includes detailed instructions for the ground stations and tracking stations.

  • Cut down system
  • Power supply use; battery charging, handling and safety
  • Tracking station asssembly
  • Tracking station wiring
  • Ground station wiring schematic
  • Pololu driver settings
  • Ground station (BRAD) tracking system instructions
  • UBIQUITI radio
  • New (posted 4/2/23) Mechanical design of flight boxes

NOTE : A new folder of engineering resources was posted 5/9/23 and includes
3D print files: Cutdown, PiCam, RFD900, Vent
Ground station code (the folder contains a zipped file and the main .exe)
Raspberry Pi video system: Instruction manuals and Ubiquiti Radio Config files

Lesson 9: Balloon path prediction and tracking

  • Weather forecasting
  • Ballooning path prediction and tracking - New video posted 4/2/23
  • Contingency planning

Lesson 10:  FAA regulations

  • FAA requirements for unmanned free balloons
  • How to file a NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions)
  • BOREALIS flight exercise

Lesson 11: Single board computers, attached sensors, and data loggers

  • RFD900
  • PTERODACTYL flight computer
    • NEW: A  entire folder of PTERODACTYL resources was posted 4/5/23
  • Sensors

Lesson 12: Camera systems

  • Raspberry Pi including ArduCam camera system
  • Ubiquiti
  • Tips for improving photography on balloon flights

Lesson 13: Iridium / GPS and Balloon Tracking Systems

  • Iridium System
  • OCCAMS unit
  • Termination
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) / GPS
  • Vent - 3D print files posted 5/9/23
  • SPOT trackers - video posted 5/17/23

Lesson 14: Radios and antennas

Radios and antennas on the payloads and ground station

Lesson 15: Final launch preparation and conclusion

  • NEW [posted 4/26/23]: Contingency Planning: What Could Go Wrong and How to Prepare
  • NEW [posted 5/7/23]: Landing and recovery
  • Video analysis and data plotting
  • Communicating science to peers and to the public

Wrapping Up.....

  • Final assessments, project report, debriefs
  • STEM career exploration – next steps