MSU President's column for Traill County Tribune

August 27, 2016

Join in the excitement of a near-space balloon launch at Mayville State


We cordially invite the members of the community to join us at Mayville State for what should be an exciting time, a near-space balloon launch. Three pre-launch informational sessions will be held at the MSU Campus Center Luckasen Room beginning at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9. The launch is planned for Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7 a.m. in front of MSU’s power house.

What is involved in a near-space balloon launch? The equipment includes a helium-filled balloon, which is about 15 feet in diameter on the ground, but swells to about 60 feet in the very low pressure of near-space. The balloon, which eventually bursts, is equipped with a camera and data sensors, and the attached parachute helps the payload package return to earth safely. The whole process of ascent and return to earth takes about two or three hours. The payload is tracked with GPS so that participants can track it and retrieve it when it reaches the ground and later analyze the data captured.

High-altitude ballooning has a long history in facilitating scientific discovery in fields such as atmospheric science, meteorology, physics, chemistry, and remote sensing. It can also be a powerful motivational tool for students in K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. For this reason, three teacher education classes of MSU Associate Professor of Science Jeff Sieg will be working with the project, along with local K-12 teachers.

To get started, participants are asked to send an informational session on Friday, Sept. 9. The interactive presentation will begin with a brief background of high-altitude ballooning and basics of organizing and tracking a payload. Examples of the stunning images typically taken by high-altitude balloons on the ascent to and at near-space will be presented. High-altitude ballooning will then be linked to a number of authentic STEM experiences available to K-12 students, including the planning of the project, calculating launch parameters, working with scientific instrumentation and communication systems, date logging and analysis, and solving unique engineering challenges. A sample hands-on simulation activity will be conducted, and finally, practical advice on how to begin a high-altitude ballooning program, including information on cost and safety issues and where to seek assistance locally, will be discussed.

Weather permitting, Mayville State University and Bismarck State College will jointly launch a camera-enabled balloon from the Mayville campus Saturday, Sept. 10. The public is invited to join in the launch and then help track the balloon to and from near-space.

Dr. Tony Musumba, associate professor of physics at Bismarck State, and Dr. Aaron Kingsbury, assistant professor of geography at Mayville State, are heading up the project. This will be Dr. Kingsbury’s first experience with a near-space balloon launch, while this will be the fourth time Dr. Musumba has done this. He has enjoyed involvement in the North Dakota Space Grant meetings, where he is able to connect with other affiliates and collaborate on projects.

When the data has been collected from the high-altitude balloon payload, more Mayville State students will have the opportunity to be involved. There will be side projects conducted with selected classes and students of Assistant Professor of English Erin Lord Kunz, Director of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Dina Zavala-Petherbridge, and Dr. Aaron Kingsbury.

The near-space balloon launch at Mayville State University is being funded by Bismarck State College and Mayville State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Division of Teacher Education, and Teaching Center. In case of poor weather conditions for the launch, an alternate date of September 24 is being reserved. For further information on this exciting project, contact Dr. Aaron Kingsbury at