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Into Space Without A Rocket (And Not Much Money, Either)

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.282.1 - 1.282.6

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D.E., Lt. Col. Randall K. Liefer

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

Session 3625

Into Space Without a Rocket (and Not Much Money, Either)

Lt. Col. Randall K. Liefer, D.E. USAF Academy, CO


This paper describes high altitude balloons as an affordable alternative for providing flight test opportunities for student built satellite systems. Traditional approaches to gain access to space include sounding rockets, Get Away Specials on the Space Shuttle and secondary payloads on expendable boosters. Each of these is time consuming and expensive. High altitude balloons provide a means to fly student payloads in a “near space” environment relatively easily. As a case in point, the Air Force Academy’s recent flight of a small satellite under a 250,000 cubic foot balloon to 110,000 feet is summarized briefly.


Engineering educators are always looking for ways to involve their students in real-world design projects that move beyond paper solutions to actual hardware. In the best of all worlds, students get to apply theory from the classroom and experience all the joys and frustrations associated with the design, fabrication, and testing of working systems. Innovative programs in all the traditional engineering disciplines are being developed and reported regularly. For example, at the Air Force Academy alone, the Civil Engineering Department has built a full scale construction laboratory where cadets experience building design and construction methods by doing it themselves. The Aeronautical Engineering Department teaches flight test by putting cadets in Cessnas and having them do flight test. Those of us teaching Astronautical Engineering, here and at other schools around the country, face an especially difficult challenge in this regard. We can’t put our students in space and it is very difficult and expensive to put their projects there.

Space educators and experimenters are nothing if not innovative. They’ve used a variety of methods to get student projects into space, close to space, at least, into a regime that’s a lot like space. Sounding rockets in a variety of sizes are used to carry student experiments to a range of altitudes from several thousand to several hundreds of thousands of feet. Small scale rockets are built and flown every semester at the Air Force Academy~. Larger student payloads are boosted from the NASA facility at Wallops Island and the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing is working with Florida schools to provide sub-orbital rides from Cape Canaveral. Experiments on these vehicles typically involve environmental study, zero-G effects or imagery. Aside from the expense, obvious limitations are short time of flight and difficult recovery.

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Liefer, D. L. C. R. K. (1996, June), Into Space Without A Rocket (And Not Much Money, Either) Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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