This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) program, an after-hours venture that provides Ball Aerospace interns with an experience of a lifetime. In under ten weeks, the interns design, build and launch payloads—objects, instruments or experiments flown into the stratosphere. BIRST culminates with the payloads’ launch on either a United Launch Alliance (ULA) intern-built rocket or an Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS) high-altitude balloon. Interns from all departments and disciplines participated in the program.BIRST_2018_1.jpg

“The BIRST program is a great way to learn more about Ball Aerospace as well as the aerospace industry as a whole, while building a network that will last well beyond the summer internship,” said Josh Cole, BIRST program manager. “BIRST also provides an opportunity for interns to learn new skills ranging from software development to project management.”



The ongoing 10-year partnership with ULA has resulted in a total of 208 payloads—35 Ball intern payloads and 173 K-12 payloads. This year’s 41-foot Future Heavy rocket launch carried 31 payloads, ranging from drones to winged aircrafts, dinosaurs and even chicken legs (built by kindergarteners from Peak to Peak Charter School).

BIRST_2018_3.jpgULA provided a competition for the K-12 payload teams, and 11 teams competed to win up to $5,000 by designing their payload to return to a predesignated location near the launch site. Since none of the payloads were able to land within the judged distance zone, the team scores on pre-launch design reviews determined the winners.BIRST_2018_5.JPG

This year, Ball’s interns designed and built six payloads, three for the rocket and three for the balloon – the most Ball has ever flown in one summer.

The balloon teams’ objectives were ambitious:
• Downlink data and relay findings through the team Twitter account (@Tweeting_Beyond). The payload attempted to take pictures of the Ball logo on an LCD screen throughout flight while implementing a unique structure that would optimize space, weight and capabilities for a truly awesome BIRST experience.
• Stamp a pancake with the Go Beyond® slogan while in the stratosphere and determine whether it was safe to eat based on Food and Drug Administration standards.
• Design and build a payload equipped with a versatile sensor suite, two GoPro cameras and a moving Ball flag, intended to record video for a virtual reality experience. This payload received environmental data for analysis.

And so were the rocket teams’:
• Build upon the flight heritage of a powered and controlled paraglider payload while also having the capability to live-stream video, as well as a 360-degree camera to capture rocket launch and descent footage.
• Deploy and inflate a seven-foot dinosaur during descent while obtaining 360-degree footage of a 3-D printed “dinodisco” to be later viewed in virtual reality.
• Develop an amphibious remote-controlled rover to explore any terrain, regardless of where it landed, while also deploying a flash light box capable of lighting up in the sky and playing music.



As part of Ball’s initiative to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students, Ball employees have volunteered to mentor not only the Ball college intern teams, but also several of the K-12 student teams.
Phil Mehalko, a Ball Aerospace systems engineer, has mentored K-12 BIRST teams for the past five years. In 2018, he worked with two high school teams, one middle school team and one kindergarten team. Ball BIRST mentorship also included Monte Henderson, senior program manager, who was the mentor for this year’s Monarch High School team.

“As an engineer, the BIRST program has provided me an excellent opportunity to give back to the community using the skills I have learned in the industry,” said Mehalko. “Providing STEM outreach is a excellent way for students of all levels to get involved and experience hands-on learning.”

BIRST_2018_4.jpgThe BIRST college students work alongside a diverse array of Ball Aerospace employees, which provides valuable networking opportunities. The teams are self-directed and possess complete design freedom. But mentors give technical advice and help when needed, enabling students to expand their roles and experience an authentic concept-to-launch process.

For students of all ages, BIRST presents an interactive opportunity to spark interest and aptitude in aerospace and related STEM fields. The highlight of many Ball interns’ summers, BIRST will continue to evolve in new and exciting ways for years to come.