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A “Balloon Satellites” Project Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Undergraduate Space Design and Project Courses

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.135.1 - 13.135.18



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Paper Authors


John Kuhlman West Virginia University

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John Kuhlman is a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at West Virginia University. He received his Ph.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1975, and his M.S. and B. S. Mechanical Engineering degrees also from CWRU in 1973 and 1970, respectively. His current research interests include spray cooling, reduced gravity fluid mechanics and heat transfer, and applied CFD. He is a course co-instructor for the WVU Balloon Satellites project course project course, and also serves as a course instructor for the WVU Microgravity Research Team project course.

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G. Michael Palmer West Virginia University

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G. Michael Palmer is a Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WVU. He is the primary course instructor for the WVU Balloon Satellites project course, and the developer of all of the WVU Balloon Board hardware and software.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The WVU “Balloon Satellites” Project Course


Over the past six years a “hands-on” aerospace engineering project course has been developed and offered at West Virginia University (WVU), where student teams conceive, propose, design, build, fly, track, and recover small electronic experiment payloads, using helium-filled latex weather balloons to send their payloads well into the stratosphere. Thus, in a single semester, and at relatively low cost, students participate in a space-like mission, complete from mission concept development to data analysis. This course is patterned after similar courses offered at other universities, and has added a much-needed emphasis on “space” in the WVU Aerospace Engineering curriculum. The main course goal is to provide students with a hardware-oriented, hands-on design project experience. This course can fulfill a technical elective requirement in either the WVU Aerospace Engineering or Mechanical Engineering curriculum. The course organization and course procedures are described, along with a summary of the types of student payloads that have been developed and flown by the student teams to date.


The WVU Balloon Satellites course instructors are both professors in the combined Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department at West Virginia University. The WVU MAE Department has a long history of providing high-quality “hands-on” senior design projects as options for the required capstone senior design course in the Mechanical Engineering (ME) curriculum (e.g., formerly, the SAE Formula Race Car and Future Truck projects, and currently the SAE Mini-Baja Car, and Challenge-X, among others). However, there has been much less opportunity at WVU for the Aerospace Engineering (AE) majors to gain experience working on an open-ended design project in a team environment. For approximately the past ten years, AE students have been able to elect to participate in the AIAA “Design, Build, Fly” RC controlled airplane competition and receive credit for one of their three required senior technical electives in the AE curriculum. Additionally, for the past six years, students can also now elect to participate in the WVU “Balloon Satellites” project course, and can chose to count their course credit for this project as a senior technical elective. Neither of these open-ended, hands on design projects can be used to fulfill the capstone design course requirement at WVU; this course continues to be a traditional conceptual airplane design course. This paper will summarize the development of the WVU Balloon Satellites course, as well as describing the recent modifications to the course that have been implemented for the Spring 2008 semester offering of the course.

The WVU Balloon Satellites course has been patterned after similar courses and projects that were first developed as the BallonSats program at the University of Colorado1. In the Summer of 2002 the first author attended the Boulder BalloonSats workshop with WV NASA Space Grant Consortium Director, Dr. Majid Jaraiedi, to learn about this program and determine if a similar project could be offered to students at WVU. After returning to WVU, colleague G. Michael Palmer was recruited to co-develop this course, applying his expertise to develop all of the necessary data acquisition and balloon tracking hardware and software.

Kuhlman, J., & Palmer, G. M. (2008, June), A “Balloon Satellites” Project Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3780

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