Date of Award

Spring 5-3-2018

Degree Type

Honors Thesis


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Kevin Kilty


Microgravity is defined as a state of having very little gravity, such as that experienced in space. Research has been performed by NASA for over 25 years as a way to determine how space technologies are impacted by a microgravity environment. To simulate microgravity, an aerodynamic payload is dropped in a vacuum chamber or from high altitudes until a state of freefall is reached. NASA drop towers are the standard microgravity testing platforms used today. These towers can produce microgravity environments for 2.2-5.2 seconds; however, these platforms are expensive and require months of advanced planning. The University of Wyoming (UW) microgravity project aims to develop a low cost alternative, while also producing microgravity environments that are equal to or better than that of drop towers. For this project, microgravity is achieved by dropping an aerodynamic payload from a weather balloon from an altitude of 100,000 feet. If successful 15-20 seconds of microgravity can be achieved.

The first UW Microgravity drop occurred in August 2017. Shock force data from the drop revealed that the internal structure components were significantly over-designed. Incorrect stress analysis of the recovery method contributed to this over-design. The over-designed components add unnecessary mass to the payload. The drop also revealed poor integration between the electronic systems and internal frame. The main objective of this project was to optimize the recovery method to reduce shock force, decrease the mass of the internal structure, and provide enhanced integration between electronic systems and the internal frame.