Soaring through the Clouds with BIRST

The sun has set, and another incredible summer for the Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) has been added to the history books. Over about eight weeks, interns and mentors at Ball Aerospace worked tirelessly to traverse through the full engineering lifecycle. The interns created a payload design, attended critical design reviews, conducted drop tests and completed the journey with the final integration and launch of their payloads.

Throughout this experience, the interns were able to build their leadership skills and network with fellow interns and Ball mentors, as well as the teams from each of the launch vehicle providers, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS).

There were four teams this year. Two teams created payloads for high-powered rockets provided by ULA and the other two teams created payloads for the high-altitude balloon provided by EOSS.
ULA Student Rocket Launch
ULA interns built the two 19.6 ft rockets named “Helios” and “Phoenix,” which had a liftoff mass of 225 pounds. The payload team names and concepts included:
  • Rocket Intern Boom Squad (R.I.B.S.) – The payload included a nosecone deployment mechanism meant to release three cameras responsible for filming the payload and its surroundings.
  • Paper Airplane Paper Airplane (P.A.P.A.) [SB1] – The payload included a nosecone deployment mechanism meant to launch paper airplanes after separating from the rocket body.
The rocket team interns awoke to a cool dawn on July 15 in Pueblo, CO. As the sun slowly rose, the day they had been anticipating for months had finally arrived. However, the coolness didn’t last for long. By 11 a.m., the fresh 65-degree air had jumped to a blistering 90 degrees. The interns passed the time by adding final touches to their payloads, watching the smaller rocket launches, visiting various food trucks and chatting excitedly in the shade. Before they knew it, the time had finally arrived for Helios and Phoenix to take flight. Both rockets reached an altitude of approximately 4,200 feet carrying the Ball payloads within. The team watched in anticipation of the next critical step, retrieving their payloads. Then, once both payloads had been retrieved, the interns said their goodbyes and embarked on the long drive back home.

EOSS High-Altitude Balloon Launch
The 2023 EOSS balloon launch included one 3,000-gram balloon equipped with an 8-kilogram payload capacity. The two balloon team payloads launched on the “EOSS-344” balloon. The balloon team names and payload concepts included:
  • BIRST Contact – The payload included multiple cameras, atmospheric sensors and two light-sensitive phototransistors tasked with measuring the rotational speed of the payload using sunlight.
  • Ballarium – The payload included a living plant encapsulated in a terrarium meant to be monitored by a variety of sensors responsible for tracking temperature, pressure, humidity and CO2 data in correspondence with visual data from a set of cameras.
On the morning of the balloon launch on July 22 in Genoa, CO, the air was chilly, and the sun had just begun to rise into the sky. This weather proved to be great for their payloads’ flight. The interns spent the morning performing final adjustments and powering everything on. As the time arrived to launch their payloads, the sun streamed through the clouds and provided a calming warmth as the balloon took the payloads into the sky. The balloon reached an altitude of approximately 108,000 feet and was released at that point to minimize ‘post-burst chaos’. The balloon landed approximately 30 miles south near Arroyo, CO. After the successful launch and retrieval of the payloads, the interns and their mentors hung out at a park and enjoyed food from a local grocery store.
Insight from the interns
After the launch of both the rocket and balloon payloads, intern Sam Betts and mentor Samantha Riemer each shared their own BIRST experience. Sam is a mechanical test intern who participated on the rocket team, R.I.B.S. Samantha is a production technician and BIRST mentor who participated on the balloon team, Ballarium.

What is your favorite part about the BIRST?

“It was cool to see everyone really focused on one thing and pushing through it together! It was a little stressful, but that kind of situation is really rewarding because you push yourself a little bit, you push the people around you and you hope that everything works out,” said Betts.

“Meeting new people and making friends along the way,” said Riemer. “The night before launch was a blast. Even if we got rained out. Also, seeing the footage was pretty awesome.”

Are there any other BIRST highlights you’d like to share?

“Throughout the program we had a lot of resources to work with, which was really nice. Also, there were a lot of intern mentors and full-time employees that were willing to help,” said Betts. “We got a lot of value out of networking with them and talking to them and seeing what their thoughts were based on their experience. That was super valuable.”

“It was pretty amazing to see the group of interns I was leading make this payload and have something to be proud of,” said Riemer. “There was a lot of gluing foam together to make the shape, as well as soldering and coding. Then there was the research to find a plant. It took us three weeks to find a cactus to put into our payload and, even then, we were iffy with it. There was a lot of creativity going on, from putting stickers on it to painting it. They went all out on this payload, and it definitely makes me want to come back next year and do it again.”

Thank you to all 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.