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Becoming a sponsor: Gabi Palavecino at [email protected]

Speaking at Stanford: Kai Marshland at [email protected]

General Inquiries: Our leadership team

SSI 63 Shatters World Record (Again)

On December 9th, 2017, the Stanford Student Space Initiative (SSI) Balloons Team soared to new heights for high altitude latex balloons research with the launch of ValBal Mk VIII. Our high altitude balloon ValBal, short for “Valve-Ballast”, is a novel platform that uses a valve to vent helium gas and releases biodegradable BB pellets as ballast to maintain altitude stability. Additionally, the new ValBal design introduced essential innovations for space technology, including flexible 3D printed parts and a new control algorithm. 

SSI-63 was the first ValBal launch of the 2017-2018 school year, a wondrous experience for new balloons members and veterans alike. Early Saturday morning we all set off to Hollister to launch our balloon, and although we had planned to fly SSI-63 in tandem with its SSI-64 Carbon copy (pun intended), we ultimately made the decision to launch only SSI-63 while reserving SSI-64 to break the transatlantic record.

This flight incorporated several new elements, from cost-effective and simple-to-assemble 3D printed structures, an autonomous altitude controller that improved our self-equilibrating latex balloon, a new avionics breakout board, and more. 

Throughout the 5 long days of nonstop flight control monitoring via the High Altitude Balloon Mission Control Suite, or HABMC, our balloon made several loops through California, journeyed across Nevada, Arizona, and even Mexico before finally descending in southeast New Mexico after exhausting all of its ballast. 

With an astounding 121 hours and 34 minutes, the results of the SSI-63 flight surpassed the previous world record of 88 hours and 40 minutes for the longest duration flight by a latex balloon.  

Balloon recovery was very successful, with minimal damage to the payload structure overall. The amazing feats of SSI-63 confirmed several predictions, as ValBal is an inexpensive alternative to launching satellites or flying planes for many applications. In the future, ValBal may be used to fly an ice radar to track global warming progress in Greenland, monitor natural disasters such as the wildfires in southern California, and as an aircraft testing telemetry relay.

As 2018 descends upon us, the SSI Balloons team is excited and working harder than ever to revolutionize high altitude balloons research. Our goal is to circumnavigate the world within the next year, and the launch of SSI-64 in January will mark the beginning of a new era.

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John Grunsfeld: NASA Astronaut and Former Chief Scientist Comes to Stanford

Wednesday November 8th in Durand 450, at 7pm. Food provided; RSVP at

Grunsfeld poster.jpg 309.38 KB

John M. Grunsfeld was named Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in January 2012. He previously served as the Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, managing the science program for the Hubble Space Telescope and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Grunsfeld's background includes research in high energy astrophysics, cosmic ray physics and in the emerging field of exoplanet studies with specific interest in future astronomical instrumentation.

He will be speaking in Durand 450 on Wednesday at 7pm.

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Gwynne Shotwell: Road to Mars

Tickets at

As President and COO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell is responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations and for managing all customer and strategic relations. She joined SpaceX in 2002 as Vice President of Business Development and the company’s seventh employee. Since that time she has helped SpaceX secure over 100 missions to its manifest, representing over $12 billion in contracts.

In addition to building the Falcon vehicle family of launches, Shotwell is also driving efforts to fly people on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, send private passengers around the Moon, and land the first private spacecraft on Mars.

On Wednesday, October 11th, Shotwell will share SpaceX's story on the road to Mars. After the talk, there will be a Q&A session hosted by Steve Jurvetson from DFJ Venture Capital.
Doors open at 6:30pm.

If you'd like to donate to SSI for hosting this event, please visit Thanks!

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Launching Balloons at Total Solar Eclipse

This August 21st, SSI had the wonderful opportunity to view and launch some balloons from Central Oregon during the Great American Eclipse.
Photo Credits to Anjali Roychowdhury
In order to launch in the band of full totality, we endured a 12-hour drive up to Oregon, braving traffic, supply shortages, and the hoards of people also vying to catch a glimpse of this incredible sight.
The SSI Family
Once we arrived, we prepared to launch two payloads; a live ATV video stream and sun tracking photography payload, and ValBal Mk VIII-A.
The ATV and photography payload included a DSLR, a drone camera attached to the ATV live stream video transmission system, and three Go-Pro cameras, one of which was modified with a motor system and magnetometer to track the sun during flight.
This ValBal flight was a test of a brand new mechanical system made of three 3D printed modules: a ballast module which controlled the release of the biodegradable BB pellets we use as ballast, a payload support, and a valve module which opened or closed to control the release of helium from the balloon during flight control. This new design is a monumental step forward in our technology, not only making ValBal much easier to assemble, but also reducing weight by over 40%, giving us longer flight times and a greater capacity for cool scientific experiments.
About to launch ValBal Mk VIII-A
We launched our photography payload from Ochoco state park just in time to catch the eclipse, and our photography payload captured some amazing images of the total eclipse from thousands of feet in the atmosphere! We launched ValBal right after the eclipse.
The total eclipse from thousands of feet in elevation
We watched our balloon disappear into the sky as darkness set down upon us. From our launch location, high on a cliff, we could see all around us for miles. The shadow of the moon rushed towards us and then everything went dark. The horizon glowed all around, like a 360-degree sunset. The sun itself was replaced by a black circle surrounded by a bright ring, the suns corona. We stared up at it for a minute in awe, and then the moon moved on and the sun came back into view. The light flooded back over the landscape and it looked like a time lapse of a sunrise.
A full minute of darkness
It was a breath taking experience, and wouldn't have been possible without everyone who helped contribute.
SSI-58 mission patchFinally, we would like to thank the Platt family for generously hosting us at their home.

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Rockets 1st Place in Category at IREC

 This last week, SSI Rockets embarked on a long journey to New Mexico to compete in the first inaugural Spaceport America Cup, one of the world's largest rocketry competitions, with over a hundred teams from five continents.

Our official mission patch!

After a long car trip to Spaceport America in New Mexico, we set about preparing for launch in the blistering 118F heat and occasional 25mph winds. And although everything we owned was soon covered in a light layer of dust, we managed to be one of the first teams to launch!

The IREC team at the launch site, taking a break just before launch!

Our rocket, Heart of Steel, officially became SSI's fastest and highest launch, getting within 1.5% of our altitude target of 30,000 feet, reaching a final maximum velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound and enduring, at one point during recovery, over a hundred gravities of acceleration! Although we suffered an imperfect recovery and our payload - a novel telemetry system which does not require a ground station - failed to deploy, our launch overall was one of the most successful in the competition.

In fact, when the (literal and figurative) dust had settled, we were first place in our altitude and motor category, with a score nearly 50% higher than the second place team!

Heart of Steel taking off - PC Benno Kolland

We are immensely grateful to everybody who made this success possible - our team, the university, our sponsors, our friends in the amateur rocketry community, and of course Spaceport America and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association, for making all of this possible. IREC 2017 was a wonderful experience, full of growth and progress for our team - we gained invaluable experience managing what was by far our largest project yet, becoming even more professional and efficient, forming relationships in the collegiate rocketry community and building the expertise we need to make even greater leaps in the future!

We are impossibly excited for this coming year and are already busy cooking up something even cooler - onwards and upwards!

Heart of Steel, heading skywards - PC Benno Kolland

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