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NASA selects UNF team for solar eclipse and high-flying balloon research

UNF student team and instructor Dr. Nirmal Patel that is participating in two NASA research projects posing in a group photo next to a satellite

A University of North Florida student team was selected to participate in NASA’s upcoming Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) and High-Altitude Student Payload (HASP) project.

Through the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP), UNF students will gain real-world STEM experience and contribute valuable scientific and engineering data by participating in an innovative NASA-mission-like adventure in data acquisition and analysis through scientific ballooning during the annular eclipse on October 14, 2023, and total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. UNF students Lovely Ramos, Dustin Leonard, Colin Ott, Cory Pare and Aryan Patel are recipients of scholarships for the NEBP project funded by NASA-NEBP-FSGC (Florida Space Grant Consortium) for two years.

55 teams were selected by NASA for this project and divided into nine pods. Among the teams, UNF, University of Central Florida and Florida International University were selected for the engineering track in Florida. Principal investigators and faculty advisors for the Florida teams include Dr. Nirmal Patel, UNF physics faculty, Dr. Jaydeep Mukherjee, director of NASA-FSGC, and Dr. Pradeep Shinde, founder & CEO of Space Loon company.

UNF and UCF teams will fly two high-altitude balloons from San Antonio, TX during the annular solar eclipse, and Little Rock, AR during the total solar eclipse. In addition, UNF-UCF teams will also fly a few test balloons from Jacksonville and the Kennedy Space Center. Florida teams will participate in both eclipses, and the resulting data will be analyzed and made publicly available.

The UNF student team is also selected for the NASA-High Altitude Student Payload (HASP) project for NASA’s high-altitude balloon flight, which will launch the UNF ozone sensors payload in the stratosphere from Palestine, Texas, in September 2023. Since 2008, the UNF team has been selected every year for the HASP. In addition to the NEBP team, other UNF students working on the NASA-HASP 2023 project include Haris Smajic, Cathryn Penn, Julian Rowe, Calla Taylor, and Elric Burch.

The UNF student team has already completed the fabrication of a ground station for tracking the balloon, computer-controlled circuit boards, radio communications, designing and fabrication of payload body by 3-D printer and fabrication of nanocrystalline ozone sensors in Dr. Patel’s research lab. During this summer semester, the participating students are registered for a two-credit Direct Independent Study (DIS) course on “Space Research for Engineers”. The team will be attending a workshop at the University of Maryland to receive practical training from NASA experts, Dr. Mary Bowden, Dr. Patel, Dr. Mukherjee, and Dr. Shinde.