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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. These important non-technical skills are denoted in the index below with this icon NEBP education icon, which reflects the overall Learner Experience for students.

Some participating teams will present this content as part of an instructor-led course; 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 and mastered prior to the annular eclipse in October 2023.

Students who are new to the project  can look at the Fast Track and video playlist below.

INSTRUCTORS AND TEAM/POD LEADERS:
Check out our page of Icebreakers and Team-Building activities, too!

Prerequisites for this course material 

None.

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
  • NEBP Education Icon Apply best practices for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating results
  • NEBP Education Icon Develop and apply STEM career skills such as communication, teamwork, and project management.
  • NEBP Education Icon Exemplify foundational principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access in STEM.

Materials

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.

Fast Track for new teams and team members

Students who are new to the project and will not have time to go through all the course material can review these select resources, which will give a higher-level overview of the project to complement the required hands-on training from their pod leader. We encourage participants to review all the course materials as time permits.

  • Watch the Welcome video from project Leader Dr. Angela Des Jardins [3:46]
  • Review Lesson 2: Introduction to Scientific Ballooning, and in particular, the video called Introduction to Stratospheric Weather Ballooning by Dr. James Flaten, Minnesota Space Grant Consortium, which will explain the equipment and missions of both the atmospheric science and engineering tracks.
  • Watch Advice for new teams - from Dr. Suzanne Smith, University of Kentucky, and Dr. Eric Kelsey, Plymouth State University [3:45]
  • Watch Safety considerations from Dr. Suzanne Smith and Dr. Mary Bowden, University of Maryland [9:20]
  • Read Chasing the Sun: The MSU-led Eclipse Ballooning Project engineers a new angle on the 2017 eclipse.
  • Review the suggestions for maintaining a logbook and building a career portfolio. Although your eclipse ballooning preparation and mission will be jam-packed, it will offer you many new skills and experiences that can help shape your future career pathway. Here we provide tips for logging and reflecting on these new skills and experiences.

Engineering Track basics

This video playlist includes the above plus more detail specific to the engineering track. Approximately 45 minutes in total.

  • NEBP Engineering: Team member roles [3:25]
  • Prediction software [5:05]
  • Choosing a launch site [23:46]
  • Landing and recovery [14:16]

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

 

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 nebp@sympa.montana.edu

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project

  • Introduction to the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project
  • NEBP education iconOverview of non-technical STEM career skills covered in the course, such as teamwork, communication (internal and external); and diversity, equity, inclusion and access
  • Careers you might consider with your new NEBP skills.
  • Project evaluation

Lesson 2: Introduction to scientific ballooning

  • Lighter-than-air ballooning (video and downloadable slide deck)
  • Stratospheric weather ballooning (video and downloadable slide deck)
  • Stratospheric Ballooning for Educators: Getting Started -- optional instructor material that will be quite useful for those who are new to ballooning
  • Class activity: Ballooning and payloads
  • Other NASA SciAct projects and partners

NEBP education iconMy 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.

Lesson 3: Eclipses and Heliophysics

  • Interactive maps for 2023 annular and 2024 total solar eclipses
  • Eclipses and heliophysics – historical, contemporary, and worldviews (including educational resources in Spanish)
  • Citizen science and eclipses
  • Additional NASA resources

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 mission
    • Advice for new teams
    • Schedule for the days leading up to launch day as well as a launch day schedule.
    • Team member roles / Flight day roles
  • NEBP Education IconBuilding a strong team - exercise
  • NEBP Education IconDiversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access in STEM 

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

  • Earth’s atmospheric boundary layer (video and downloadable slide deck)
  • Weather forecasting
  • Gravity waves (video and slide deck)

Lesson 6: Ballooning missions and payloads

  • Ballooning basics (downloadable slide deck)
    • Basic ballooning and payloads
    • Journey of a Scientific Balloon - including Pre-Flight and Inflation, Launch, Ascent, Burst & Descent, and Landing and Recovery
  • Safety and risk
  • Choosing a launch site
  • Class exercise: Knots
  • Building payload boxes

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 microcontroller programming
  • Soldering - basic and advanced (includes videos and photo instructions)
  • Electronics and programming
  • Onshape

Lesson 8: Payloads and ground stations

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

See also Lesson 12 for setup instructions and files for camera and video systems

 

NEW January 2024: NEBP Tech Session  - Troubleshooting the ground stations and Iridium

NEW February 2024: NEBP Tech Session: Parachutes, stand-alone cameras and more

 

  • BOREALIS flight line test results
  • Parachute
    • How to pack a parachute video
    • Diaper/Pull-up Instructions and CAD files to download
  • Downloadable engineering resources
    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
    RFD900
  • Mechanical design of flight boxes
    • Files for the payload boxes: PDF and AutoCAD files for RFD Iridium Top, Bottom and Door [Download from NEBP Education Google Drive]
    • Tracking station asssembly
    • Tracking station wiring
    • Ground station wiring schematic
  • Pololu driver settings
  • Cut down system
  • Power supply use; battery charging, handling and safety
  • UBIQUITI radio - New v2 Setup Guide posted 6/28/23
  • Ground station (BRAD) tracking system instructions

Lesson 9: Balloon path prediction and tracking

  • Weather and trajectory predictions (downloadable slide deck)
  • Tracking high-altitude weather balloons (downloadable slide deck)
  • Ballooning path prediction software

Lesson 10:  FAA regulations

  • FAA regulations 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

NEW Jan 2024: NEBP Tech Session - RFD900 and PTERODACTYL

 

  • RFD900
    • programming instructions
    • instruction manuals (downloadable)
  • PTERODACTYL flight computer
    • Introductory video
    • PTERODACTYL GPS modifications (video)
    • PTERODACTYL files for download, including code, power plane, build files, etc.
  • Sensors
    • Data sheets for all sensors

Lesson 12: Camera systems

NEW February 2024: NEBP Tech Session: Parachutes, stand-alone cameras and more

 

  • Raspberry Pi ArduCam System Build and Instruction Manual
  • Raspberry Pi and ArduCam Ground Plane Modification Instructions and template
  • Tips for improving photography on balloon flights
  • Installing and configuring Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to stream Pi Cam video to YouTube

  • Files for 3D printing a case for Insta360 camera and extra battery
  • Payload box files for Pi camera and RFD 900 data logger

Lesson 13: Iridium / GPS and Balloon Tracking Systems

NEW: Feb. 16, 2024 - Important technical bulletin on vents

NEW: Feb. 2024: Slide deck and recording on various venting systems and cut-down configurations.

  • Iridium Control System
    • poster and documentation
  • OCCAMS unit
    • documentation and schematics
  • Termination
  • Vent - downloadable 3D print files
    • including files for the UMD Vent, formerly known as Montana Modified Vent, and files and instructions for the UMD-MT Mash-up Valve
  • SPOT trackers
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) / GPS
  • RFD Iridium payload boxes
    • PDF and AutoCAD files for download

Lesson 14: Radios and antennas

  • Internet and Antennas (downloadable slide deck)
  • Ubiquiti Radio

Lesson 15: Final launch preparation and conclusion

  • Contingency Planning: What Could Go Wrong and How to Prepare
  • Landing and recovery
  • Video analysis and data plotting
  • NEBP Education IconCommunicating science to peers and to the public

Lesson 16: Gravity wave analysis (POST FLIGHT)

  • NEW January 2024: Instructional videos and notebooks for Google Colaboratory
  • Poster, publications and a citizen science project that will help you better understand all the concepts of Engineering Gravity Wave Analysis

Course wrap-up

We recommend....

  • Final assessments and debriefs
  • Flight practices
  • Review project/career portfolios
  • Talk with students about STEM career exploration – what will be their next steps?