How to catch a ride to the sky

Another year of the Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) payload project for the books

It’s a wrap. Interns and mentors at Ball Aerospace completed another summer of the Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) payload project. This summer has been a special one, with so many creative payloads made by our interns. Interns went through the full engineering lifecycle on a condensed schedule, an intense eight weeks. The BIRST teams ideated, designed, created and completed a launch vehicle, attended critical design reviews and drop tests to reach the final integration and see their payload concepts come to fruition. The interns were able to build their leadership skills and network with the other interns, Ball mentors as well as launch vehicle providers, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS).

There were six teams this year. Three teams created payloads for a high-powered rocket provided by ULA and three teams created payloads for the high-altitude balloon provided by EOSS.

ULA Student Rocket Launch

ULA interns were responsible for three 19.6-foot rockets, Sine, Cosine and Tangent. Two nose cones and one payload tube were allocated to the BIRST rocket teams. Payload team names and concepts included:

  • I.SPY – A payload equipped with cameras that planned to capture imagery and detect stimuli, such as colors, shapes and more complicated patterns, and react to said stimuli with puffs of colored chalk/powder.
  • Ball Part Ball (BPB) – A payload equipped with music, lights and confetti, which had various sensors to monitor payload and environment conditions.
  • Ball is Life – A 3D-printed house payload with a trap door to let 3D-printed figures fall out. The payload had cameras and sensors to collect data during the descent.

Enduring 105-degree heat in Pueblo, Colo., the interns on the rocket teams showed resilience as they waited for their rockets to launch.  Unfortunately, the student rocket launch had to be cut short due to safety concerns among the teams from the heat, giving a humbling reality check on launch life. Regardless, it was still an unforgettable experience hanging out with other Ball interns and employees at the launch site. The interns danced to music, played games and even went around and incorporated people’s names into raps to keep the fun going.

EOSS High-Altitude Balloon Launch

The EOSS launch had two 1500-gram balloons, each with 4-kilogram payload capacity – meaning weight was

the ultimate constraint for balloon payloads. Two BIRST team payloads went on one balloon “EOSS-327,” while the third payload was incorporated on the “EOSS-328” balloon along with payloads from another organization. Balloon team names and payload concepts included:

  • Sustainable Party in Near Space (SPINS) – The payload planned to harvest renewable energy using a wind turbine powered by the environment throughout flight to host a concert in the sky.
  • Keep the Ball Rollin’ – The payload was equipped with a 360-degree camera that continually monitored environmental telemetry and filmed a rotating Ball bottle featuring a “special character” throughout flight.
  • BALLoon – The payload was designed to provide a life support system onboard to investigate the impacts and conditions of the upper atmosphere on the life of a marshmallow.

The balloon teams woke up bright and early in Genoa, Colo. to finish final preparations for their payloads. Integration of the payloads onto the balloons included attaching the payload to the balloons by passing a rope through the payloads. Balloon flight “EOSS-327” was launched at 7:15 a.m. MST and “EOSS-328” was launched at 7:39 a.m. MST. After the balloons were released, it was time to play the waiting game. Some interns went back to sleep, others went into town to get some breakfast. When the balloons had reached maximum altitude and burst, it was time for recovery. EOSS-327 reached a maximum altitude of 91,544 feet while EOSS-328 reached a maximum altitude of 88,718 feet. All payloads were successfully retrieved. Mission accomplished!

Insight from the interns

We caught up with two Ball Aerospace interns, Aleena Voorhees and Andrew Morell, to discuss the unique hands-on experience. 
Aleena is an industrial engineering technical intern who participated on the rocket payload, I.SPY.

Andrew is a returning intern doing guidance, navigation and control this year and participated on the balloon payload, Keep the Ball Rollin’. 

What skills do you believe you have developed because of BIRST?<

Aleena: “BIRST taught me how to interact in a cross-functional team in a short amount of time. In my classes at school, I am only put into groups with other industrial engineers since that's what we're all studying. With BIRST, I was able to perform the role of an industrial engineer and experience working with team members of different backgrounds.”

Andrew: “I've had the privilege of working on both a rocket team last year as well as a balloon team this year, and in both roles, I believe I developed the skill to think in terms of the environment. It is easy to get lost in the excitement of what actions you want your payload to perform, but in the world of aerospace everything is dependent on getting there. Whether it be conditioning the payload to survive the vibrations of a rocket in the desert heat or to operate at miniscule temperatures and pressures at the edge of space, keeping in mind that context is critical to design.”

What advice would you give to an intern participating in BIRST next year?

Aleena: “I would tell future interns involved in BIRST to embrace the process. The mentors will guide you where you need to be as long as you always think about how you can help - even if it's not related to your prior experience. Be open to learning new things because it's the best opportunity to do so.”

Andrew: “Take initiative. BIRST is not just a chance to work on a cool technical project, it is also an opportunity to really take ownership of an entire mission. With small team sizes there is room for everyone to hone their leadership skills for different roles, but that won't happen if you don't step up to the task.”

Thank you to all of the BIRST interns, mentors and supporting leadership that made this year so exciting and successful.

To see more day of launch content, check out the Ball Aerospace Twitter account @BallAerospace and Instagram account @BallAerospace.