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A BalloonSat is a simple package designed to carry lightweight experiments into near space. They are a popular introduction to engineering principles in high school and college courses. BalloonSats are carried as secondary payloads on ARHAB flights. BalloonSats do not require the inclusion of tracking equipment; as secondary payloads, they already are being carried by tracking capsules.
The National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program started BalloonSat in August 2000. It was created as a hands on way to introduce new science and engineering students interested in space studies to some fundamental engineering techniques, team working skills and the basics of space and Earth science. The BalloonSat program is part of a course taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The design of a BalloonSat is often under weight and volume constraints. This encourages good engineering practices, introduces a challenge, and allows for the inclusion of many BalloonSats on an ARHAB flight. The airframe material is usually Styrofoam or Foamcore, as they are lightweight, easy to machine, and provide reasonably good insulation.
Most carry sensors, data loggers and small cameras operated by timer circuits. Popular sensors include air temperature, relative humidity, tilt, and acceleration. Experiments carried inside BalloonSats have included such things as captive insects and food items.
Before launch, most BalloonSats are required to undergo testing. These tests are designed to ensure the BalloonSat will function properly and return science results. The tests include a cold soak, drop test, function test, and weighing. The cold soak test simulates the intense cold temperatures the BalloonSat will experience during its mission. A launch and landing can be traumatic, therefore the drop test requires the BalloonSat to hold together and still function after an abrupt drop. The function test verifies the BalloonSat crew can prep the BalloonSat at the launch site.
- Koehler, Chris. "BalloonSat: Missions to the Edge of Space". Utah State University. 16th Annual/USU Conference on Small Satellites. Retrieved 18 November 2015.