Call for Design and Prototype Ideas for a
Guided Data Vault Recovery

Congratulations to the FLOATing DRAGON Balloon Challenge Finalists

Princeton University
Balloon Research Glider Recovery (BRGR)
Advisor:  Daniel Marlow

Purdue University
Purdue DRAGONfly
Advisor:  Steven Collicott

South Dakota State University
Project Jack Drop
Advisor:  Todd Letcher

The University of Texas at Austin
Floating Longhorns
Advisor:  Adam Nokes

University of California, Davis
HERMES (High-altitude Experimental Rogallo Mission to Escort Safely)
Advisor:  Stephen Robinson

University of Notre Dame
Advisor:  Scott Howard

The FLOATing DRAGON (Formulate, Lift, Observe, And Testing; Data Recovery And Guided On-board Node) Balloon Challenge (aka, FLOATing DRAGON) was developed to provide increasing opportunities for academic research institutions to contribute to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD) mission. Sponsored by NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility’s Balloon Program Office (BPO), the FLOATing DRAGON Balloon Challenge is open to teams of undergraduate and graduate college students who have an interest in aviation, ballooning, and guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C).

Through FLOATing DRAGON, teams and their faculty advisors will design and prototype ideas for a guided data vault recovery system.  There is a need for accessing data from upcoming balloon missions such as SuperBIT and TAURUS, which are proposing to collect prohibitively large amounts of telemetry data (i.e., terabytes). To overcome this challenge, data recovery systems can be developed which drop data vaults for recovery.  NASA’s BPO is actively playing a role in the design, testing, and maintenance processes of these data vault drops to increase public safety. The trade space for this type of data recovery systems is large, and there is room for many creative ideas for NASA to consider from the university community. 

Through the FLOATing DRAGON Challenge, NASA seeks innovative ideas and prototypes for a guided data vault recovery system consisting of: 1) a deployer that can be mounted to a HASP-type balloon gondola; and 2) a node that can be dropped and fall gracefully to a pre-determined, safe waypoint for recovery.

Challenge Overview

The FLOATing DRAGON asks collegiate students to develop a concept and preliminary prototype for a system capable of delivering a data vault to the ground in a guided, safe manor without subjecting the data vault to a harsh environment.

FLOATing DRAGON allows students to augment their coursework in a real-world research and application environment, working together as teams to develop data recovery systems for high balloon flight tests. Interdisciplinary team composition is encouraged, and Minority Serving Institutions are encouraged to apply.

Initial participation involves the development of a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) submission package. After receiving feedback from the judges on the PDR, teams will have another opportunity to submit their final proposal via a Conceptual Design Review (CDR) Package. Based on a review of the CDR submissions, approximately four teams will be chosen to build and test their data recovery prototypes. Each finalist team will receive a small monetary award ($5,000) to help off-set costs associated with the development and construction of their concept and will also receive a standardized equipment and hardware package from NASA, including the data vault payload.

Each finalist team will be paired with a NASA Mission Manager in the BPO at Wallops Flight Facility, who will provide technical guidance for several months to help refine the team’s design and get it flight ready. Upon successfully passing a rigorous mission review process, finalist teams will ultimately be able to conduct a test drop of their data recovery system in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico in August 2023.

The winning team may also have an opportunity to integrate their system into an official NASA development. 

Eligibility is limited to U.S.-based academic institutions. 

Dates & Deadlines

All deadlines must be met by 11:59 p.m. EST on the date specified below,
unless otherwise indicated.

April 29, 2022
2-3:30 p.m. EST
Q&A Session #1 for interested teams
Sept. 15, 2022Notice of Intent (NOI) Deadline with initial concept details
Sept. 21, 2022Deadline for teams to submit questions in advance of Q&A #2
Sept. 27, 2022
2-3:30 p.m. EST
Q&A Session #2 for interested teams
Oct. 20, 2022Preliminary Design Review (PDR) Submission Deadline
Nov. 7, 2022Teams receive PDR Feedback
Jan. 8, 2023Conceptual Design Review (CDR) Submission Deadline
Jan. 30, 2023Selection Announcements are made; Teams receive CDR feedback;
construction begins for four (4) finalists
Feb. 9, 2023Stipends are sent to Finalist Teams
May 18, 2023Software Design Review (SDR) Submission Deadline
July 2, 2023Mission Readiness Review (MRR) Submission Deadline
Aug. 15, 2023Integration and Testing at Ft. Sumner, NM
Oct. 16, 2023Flight complete, data returned to students
Dec. 3, 2023Finalist Teams’ Technical Paper and Digital Technical Poster Deadline
Jan. 8, 2024Kickoff meeting with ETD for official NASA development

FLOATing DRAGON is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace on behalf of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility’s Balloon Program Office.