Travel is only glamorous in retrospect. -Paul Theroux, in The Washington Post



Team Elijah

Team Elijah is a Balloon Student Satellite Program (BalloonSat) which provides opportunities for students to fly their science experiments in a near-space environment. Through the regular launch of student-designed payloads from weather balloons, which ascend up to 100,000 feet before bursting, students, teachers, individuals, and groups alike are enabled to investigate effects not possible here on the ground without expensive laboratories and equipment.

Team Elijah was assembled to construct and test the tracking payload for this project. The team also manages launch efforts, such as tracking, chasing, and retrieving the payload. In planning a launch, weather is a huge consideration. Clear skies and no chance of rain are necessary. Launch takes place at sunrise since the wind speeds are calmest at this time. Upon launch, the balloon, parachute, tracking payload, and science payload ascend up to 100,000 ft, where the balloon bursts and the entire assembly falls back to Earth. Throughout the entire ascent and decent of the balloon, lasting approximately three hours, constant radio contact is maintained. GPS signals received by the tracking team allows them to remain under the balloon at all times.


Along with all the necessary tracking equipment, the tracking payload carries a camera to take still digital photos throughout the balloon's flight. The photo to the right was taken during the flight of Elijah 1 upon being released from Eau Claire, WI.


Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium

The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) has laid the foundation for a long-term program in which students are supported in the design and launch of their own aerospace missions. The current focus of the ballooning program is on several factors. Weather balloons are capable of reaching altitudes of 100,000 feet, a region considered to be the “edge of space.” This is an interesting region in terms of planetary science and future planetary missions; in fact, the environment at this altitude can be considered a Mars analogue. Payloads carried by weather balloons must be designed to survive launch and landing, and to operate under an extreme set of environmental conditions at this range of altitudes. They must also be designed to minimize mass, volume and power consumption, precisely the same design constraints as those for a NASA space hardware mission. The engineering issues for payloads carried by such balloons are, of course, complex and challenging, without being insurmountable by a student team; they mimic the real problems that would be faced by individuals that ultimately move into the NASA workforce. Finally, the experiences of other Space Grant consortia have shown ballooning programs to be a very efficient use of funds, in terms of the expertise gained by the students, and in terms of the potential numbers of students involved. Compared to the more ambitious CubeSat program (in which a single satellite might cost $5000, not including launch costs), a ballooning program can launch student-designed and built payloads for perhaps $1000 total, hence allowing more launches by more student teams per year. Additionally, once the initial infrastructure is created, such a program can be sustained by the WSGC at its current level of funding, yielding long-term stability and consequently a greater impact.


NASA's Involvment

The WSGC Student Satellite Program directly addresses the goals of two NASA enterprises: the Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise and the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE). The goal of HEDS is the exploration of the space frontier. This project will set up the infrastructure to enable students to construct and launch payloads on suborbital rockets and balloons that will reach the edge of space (here, 100,000 feet). In addition, the expertise gained and infrastructure created in this program will lay the groundwork for regular launches, and more ambitious student satellite initiatives such as CubeSat. Students that participate in the various aspects of this program will have the experience aligned with the goals of this Enterprise, and would therefore be highly desirable NASA employees, contractors or principal investigators.


The goals of the Earth Science Enterprise are to understand the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment from space. Through design and creation of payloads, this project encourages students to develop innovative technologies and applications of remote sensing for solving practical problems. Also, because this program will encourage students to learn through experience to both anticipate and to address and solve Earth science and technology problems as they arise, this project is uniquely suited to prepare students to actively participate in this Enterprise.


Team Members

2003 Design & Launch Team


Advisor: Dr. Joseph Majdalani

Nick Beyer

Eric Jacob

Matt Opgenorth

Cara Piggott

Lee Sharping

Shannon Smith

2004-2005 Launch Team


Advisor: Dr. William Farrow

Dan Haeg

Ann Hartwig

Eric Jacob

Cara Piggott

Lisa Stalewski

Vadik Vargas


Equipment (will be added soon)




Elijah X    (7-27-2003)

This was our first "experimental" launch. It was partially successful. We tracked the payload for the entire flight but lost it within 25,000 feet of landing. This resulted in us knowing a general area where the payload landed, but did not allow us to find it. Eventually a hunter found the payload and returned it to us.


Elijah 1    (8-11-2003)

This launch was successful with only some minor issues. We were there at the landing site to actually see the payload land.


Elijah 2    (7-28-2004)

This payload lost radio contact after 9 minutes of flight. The antenna was altered and that was a mistake. This payload was lost.


Elijah 3    (8-10-2004)

This flight was a mess, but we got our payload back. The balloon did not have enough helium in it upon lift off. The balloon took off slowly and the wind pushed it back into the trees. The balloon got hung up in the trees and broke some components. After it released itself from the trees we had lost radio contact. We maintained a visual until it was too high. Luckily on our trip home we got a call from an old lady who had found the payload in her backyard.







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