SSI Wins Best Design in Global Space Balloon Challenge!

SSI is delighted to announce that we’ve won Best Design in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, an international high-altitude balloons challenge with more than 630 teams participating in 72 countries, using the design for our Project Cycloon system. The competition is designed to increase access to space and motivate people to take their first steps towards it with small-scale science payload launches, and rewards innovation and excellence in design. 

The overarching aim of Project Cycloon is to leverage SSI’s expertise in balloon altitude control towards tropical cyclone research over the open ocean. Tropical cyclone energetics are of enormous interest to forecasters but remain poorly understood, in large part because detailed measurements on such energetics -- full dynamic wind and temperature profiles from surface level to the cloud tops -- are unattainable by current methods.
Project Cycloon has designed an aero-marine, low-cost balloon platform to obtain such profiles. We envision stationing dozens of such platforms in basins of development throughout a hurricane season and deploying them to systems of interest. Upon entry to a storm system, the platform will be carried along by the storms circulation, enabling passive data collection for the remainder of the platform’s lifetime, at a fraction of the cost of other survey systems. 

The award-winning flight was launched at midnight from Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park in San Mateo, California. After completing its flight, it was last heard from southwest of Pont Buchon in San Luis Obispo Country, over 150 miles away from the deployment site. Having achieved this design goal through the competition, the Cycloon team is excited to continue to develop their technology so that it can start being deployed!

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Launching a kiwi to near space

We had a fantastic time in GSBC this year launching a kiwi -- you can watch the video here:

You don’t need a huge budget or technical expertise to build something incredible. With the launch of SSI-82, we set out to demonstrate that space is within the reach of everybody. To us, the problem with most educational initiatives is that what they build is cool, but so complex as to be intimidating. That doesn’t serve the goal of education; the best way to become educated is to get hands-on experience by launching something, and in SSI-82 we tried to demonstrate that anybody can do just that. 

The payload design was therefore kept as simple and low-tech as possible. It was primarily a styrofoam box. A hole was hollowed out with a plastic ruler -- no machining tools required! We stuck a GoPro in this hole, keeping it stable with a spare pencil we had lying around. To keep it warm in the freezing atmosphere, we didn’t go for fancy heaters, but instead just threw in a bag of water. With a fairly high heat capacity, this kept the payload interior right around 0ºC for the duration of the flight. Other than the GoPro and Spot GPS, the whole payload only cost a few bucks.

Payload interior

Of course, we also wanted to have something to keep it interesting, ideally something fun that would appeal to kids. We settled on a kiwi -- the fruit -- with googly eyes and a fake beak to look like a kiwi -- the bird. After all, what better way to encapsulate the space ballooning spirit than letting what was previously flightless fly? We want to show that even if you think you could never in a million years get into the sky, with high-altitude ballooning it really is possible. 

Payload exterior

For a counterbalance, we again used a bag of water: cheap and adaptable. By adjusting the amount of water in it, we could set the angle at which the GoPro pointed. Arriving at the launch site, we filled the balloon, tossed a SPOT GPS into the payload box, and let it fly. There are lots of hard things in space, but getting involved doesn’t have to be.

You can watch our video here:

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SSI 78: Behind the Scenes Balloonerang Launch

Balloonerang ended 2018 with its first ever tethered balloon launch.
On the morning of December 2, 2018, the team woke up bright and early to test a quarter’s worth of progress.
The team prepares for launch by taking their respective stations.

To see how we prepared for this launch, check out our behind the scenes video here:

This launch featured a new and improved 3D-printed payload design, as well as a beautifully fabricated board and improved code.
The payload is made of 3D-printed ABS plastic, printed in Stanford's Product Realization Lab. The PCB and electronics were designed using Altium, and proofed by members of the team.

For the new year, Balloonerang has many new tests planned. One goal we hope to achieve is to better understand the aerodynamic challenges posed by flying a payload in high velocity winds.
Our payload after cutdown. During this launch, we were able to keep the strings from tangling.

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress and adventures to come!
The team celebrates after two successful cutdowns!

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Balloonerang Bounces Back

As the race for autonomous parafoil recovery system fares on, Stanford student engineers are busy stirring up competition.

On the cold, windy morning of May 18, 2018, Stanford Student Space Initiative's (SSI) newly coined Balloonerang Team successfully launched its parafoil system for SSI-69, surpassing expectations not only once, but twice!

Balloonerang zooms in on its circuit. The new payload design features 3D printed funnels through which the parafoil support strings thread.

The goal of this launch was to fly our payload via a high-altitude latex balloon to low altitudes in range of vision and control direction of flight with servo controllers upon cutdown. Cutdown occurred at 328ft for the first test, and 426ft for the second test; and despite the box's graceful but inconvenient landing in a local river, the team was able to recover the fully functional payload for analysis.

SSI returns to launch site after recovery.

This new structure incorporates secure and optimized features, including 3D-printed funnels and a sturdy Duron shell. The circuit, code, and the deployment mechanisms worked as needed, but still remain a work in progress. Brian Tanabe (left) and Jason Kurohara (right) prepare the parafoil for flight.

To prepare for the flight, the team worked long hours late nights planning, debugging, and falling asleep to the whir of 3D printers.

For our next flight, the Balloonerang team will focus on gear motor functionality, revamp both mechanical and electrical design, and more precisely follow the scripted flight. Future goals include installing a live update panel and designing a way to support heavier loads.
Our final payload design!
Balloonerang team hopes to continue uncovering new insights about parafoil recovery systems, and work toward its eventual goal of automated flight. With a guided recovery system, our high-altitude balloons team will be able to save significant costs and time in retrieving the payload. Along the way, we'll be gathering invaluable data about material properties and sharing what we learn with the public. The possibilities are endless!
SSI team celebrates a successful flight. Pictured from left to right: Davy Ragland, Brian Tanabe, Danna Xue, Grace Hu, Jason Kurohara.

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SSIdeas High Altitude Balloons Competition

Hey everyone!

Do you have an idea you'd like to fly up to space? Wanna win a $50 Gift Card to Coupa if your idea is chosen? Whether it be launching your lab's amazing research or a banana with googly eyes for the memes, each individual or teams of up to 4 can submit their crazy ideas of what you guys want flown on our famous high-altitude balloons!🎈

SSIdeas is a campus wide competition sponsored by the Stanford Student Space Initiative (SSI), where you get to propose an idea or fun object to launch to space using high-altitude balloons. What are high-altitude balloons, you say? Well, they’re huge 10-feet wide latex balloons that can fly scientific payloads to near space, collecting data and reaching heights of ~80,000 feet / 25 km at extremely low costs of <$1,000 total. We are looking for ideas of the coolest payloads to be flown on a high altitude balloon, and we’d love your help either pitching ideas or helping with payload construction!

This challenge is open to all Stanford students (grad & undergrad), in order to spread our love of flying high-altitude balloons. For those who are unfamiliar with SSI, we are a completely student-run organization whose ultimate goal is to open the stage for future space enterprise leaders. Internally, we are categorized into 6 subteams, one of which is dedicated to constructing High Altitude Balloon payloads. Our Valve-Ballast (ValBal) System, one of the Balloons Team’s main projects, is an autonomous payload that broke the world record for longest latex balloon flight in history after staying aloft for 121 hours (that’s more than 5 days!).

Our team is all about innovation, and we know that Stanford students are the best in the world at this. So whether or not you’re a STEM major, space enthusiast, humanities rockstar, or you’ve barely even thought about going to space but have great ideas, fill out our quick application to see your ideas



Categories (3 Winners, Best in Each):
A)Life Sciences (Bio/Environmental), B) Techie (ME/EE/CS), C) Creativity

Submit your idea by 11:59pm, May 1st on our application: