High Altitude Balloon Payload Design Program (Summer 2013)

Program Overview

In this project, 6 female engineering students will work as part of an interdisciplinary project team to design a high altitude balloon payload. The payload will carry a science experiment that will perform radiation monitoring at high altitudes. The science experiment is part of an ongoing research effort at MSU to develop reliable space computers for NASA. The payload will be launched on the Montana Space Grant Consortium’s (MSGC) BOREALIS balloon platform to an altitude of 100,000 feet at the end of the program.

The payload will be designed and prototyped during an 8-week summer program at MSU-Bozeman during June and July that is sponsored by NASA. The female engineering students participating in this program will be exposed to working on an interdisciplinary project team adhering to the principles of systems engineering.

The overall goals of this program are to engage underrepresented groups in STEM and expose undergraduate engineering students to an interdisciplinary design project which is accomplished using the principles of systems engineering. Program Flyer

The Design Team

Left to Right:

Kasandra Miller, Junior in Electrical Engineering
Allison Walsh, Junior in Electrical Engineering
Genevieve Suwara, Sophomore in Computer Science
Kathryn Manning, Sophomore in Computer Science
Mary Peterson, Senior in Mechanical Engineering
Tesha Tevary, Senior in Mechanical Engineering


Left to Right:

Brock LaMeres, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering
Hunter Lloyd, Faculty, Computer Science
Robb Larson, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering Technology
Angela Des Jardins, Director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium


Engineering Design Process

1. Mission Architecture 

2. Mission Requirements

Functional Requirements:

  • Log radiation and corresponding altitude for duration of flight (up to 90,000 feet and back)
  • Store data on non-volatile memory
  • Provide power for duration of flight plus 1 hour set up and 1 hour for recovery (4 hr min)
  • Indicate the unit is powered on
  • Indicate system is running properly
  • Ensure system is both water-resistant and buoyant
  • Provide internal fire resistance
  • Provide internal temperature regulation
  • Ensure system will operate within temperature range of flight
  • Ensure system will withstand forces of launch, ascent, balloon pop, descent and landing
  • Ensure system can attach to research computer payload
  • Ensure combined system can attach to Borealis balloon

Performance Requirements:

  • Log radiation and altitude data each second
  • Provide 5 watts per hour over 4 hour flight
  • Provide sound and/or light to indicate power is on
  • Provide sound and/or light to indicate the system is operating properly
  • Ensure water cannot leak into system and payload floats
  • Enable system to shut down if internal temperature exceeds 100 C
  • Ensure system can withstand vertical force of 10Gs and horizontal force of 5Gs
  • Ensure payload temperature will operate between -60 and 60C (external)
  • Ensure payload temperature stays within and will operate between -20 and 40C (internal)
  • Ensure pressure sensor can withstand 0-90kPa

Physical Requirements:

  • Ensure system does not exceed maximum dimensions: 5.5in by 5.5in by 5.5in.
  • Ensure system does not exceed maximum mass: 6 lbs
  • Mechanically interface with the Research Computer and the BOREALIS balloon system.

Reliability Requirements:

  • Ensure system can launch twice and withstand internal tests:
    • Drop test
    • Bench-top burn test
    • Cold room test
    • Water resistance test
    • Pressure test
  • Recover all components and ensure internal components are not damaged

Systems Requirements

4. Preliminary Design

Preliminary Design Review (PDF, 5M)(PPTX, 11M)

5. Critical Design

Critical Design Review (PDF, 3M)(PPTX, 8M)

6. Assembly & Test

7. Product Launch

Product Launch (PPTX, 4M)(PDF, 2M)

Flight Pictures (Zip File, high res, 212M)

Launch Video (MP4, 16sec, 30M)


Design Documents

Internal Documents

External References

Systems Engineering Resources


Role Model Series


The Role Model Series is where women working in STEM and/or leadership roles come chat with our female engineering/physics students about what their job is, their career path, any obstacles they may have faced, and any advice they have for the students to keep them motivated toward graduation. There tends to be fewer female engineering/science students their male counterparts so the students really enjoy hearing the experiences of other women who have been where they are and came out on the other side. It is very informal, women only, snacks provided!"


Dr. Angela Des Jardins

Director, MT Space Grant Consortium 

Tuesday, 6/4/13, 9:30am (ECE Conf Rm) 
(Pictures of Talk)


Dr. Joey Key

Education Specialist, MT Space Grant Consortium 

Wednesday, 6/6/13, 9:30am (ECE Conf Rm) 
(Pictures of Talk)

Dr. Waded Cruzado

President of the Montana State University System

Tuesday, 6/11/13, 2pm (Roberts 312A) 
(Pictures of Talk)

Dr. Sarah Codd

Professor, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, MSU 

Thursday, 6/13/13, 9:30am (ECE Conf Rm) 
(Pictures of Talk)

Martha Potvin

Provost, Montana State University 

Thursday, 6/20/13 (ECE Conf Rm) 
(Pictures of Talk)

Elizabeth Brown

Post Doc, Project CURE, Montana State University 

Thursday, 6/27/13 (ECE Conf Rm) 
(Pictures of Talk)