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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 to be learned over 14 Lessons (about the equivalent of a standard semester). It can also be modified to fit a quarter system; we recommend pacing it over two quarters rather than packing it into one. You can also move through the content in a self-paced fashion.

We recommend allocating approximately 3 hours per lesson for the content.

Fast Track for new 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.

Atmospheric Science Track basics

This video playlist includes more detail specific to the atmospheric track. Approximately 36 minutes in total.

  • Atmospheric Science Team member roles [2:52]
  • Choosing a launch site - overview [4:03]
  • Choosing a launch site - deep dive [19:29]
  • Ballooning safety considerations [9:21]

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 NEBP
  • NEBP Education IconOverview of non-technical STEM career skills covered in the course, such as teamwork, project management, communication (internal and external); and diversity, equity, inclusion and access
  • Learn about 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: Keys to a successful field campaign

  • Advice for new teams
  • NEBP Education IconIntroduction to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access in STEM
  • Operations planning and decision making
  • Overview of scientific field campaigns (video and downloadable slide deck)
  • Key tips and checklists for a successful field campaign

Lesson 5: Preparing to launch

  • Safety considerations
  • Contingency planning
  • Teamwork and communications
  • Balloon trajectory predictions
    • Software downloads and online tools
  • Helium regulator and balloon fill instructions 
  • Launch site selection
    • Launch site metadata form (download)

Lesson 6: Meteorology and the Weather Research and Forecasting model

  • Introduction to meteorology and Earth’s atmosphere for balloon flights (video and downloadable slide deck)
  • Intro to Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) (video and downloadable slide deck)

Lesson 7: The Atmospheric Boundary Layer

  • Introduction to the Atmospheric Boundary Layer (video and downloadable slide deck)

Lesson 8: Atmospheric gravity waves

  • Introduction to atmospheric gravity waves (video and downloadable slide decks)
  • Homework questions, key and extended learning suggestions

Lesson 9: Gravity wave observations

  • Gravity wave observations (video and downloadable slide decks)
  • Suggested articles and readings
  • Gravity waves from the engineering track perspective
  • Discussion questions, key and extended learning suggestions

Lesson 10: Structuring of teams for success

  • NEBP Education IconTeambuilding for NEBP
  • Roles and responsibilities during a campaign
  • Creating a code of conduct

Lesson 11: Radiosondes and networks

  • Introduction to radiosondes and networks
  • Checklists
    • Initialization checklist
    • Primary fill checklist
    • Secondary fill checklist
  • How your National Weather Service launches balloons

Lesson 12: Data collection and analysis

  • NEW Jan. 2024: Strategies for quality control and analysis of the radiosonde data
  • NEW Jan. 2024: Tips and tricks for analyzing the PBL data
  • Data collection and analysis for NEBP
  • Lufft weather station
  • Grawmet software
  • Analyzing data

Lesson 13: Final launch preparation

  • Contingency Planning: What Could Go Wrong and How to Prepare
  • Final launch preparation:
    • launch kits / packing lists
    • Schedule and timing of events pre- and post- flight;
  • FAA regulations related to unmanned balloon flights
  • Wrapping up a field campaign
  • NEBP Education IconCommunicating science to peers and to the public

To wrap up the course, 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?