ASCEND! Aerospace STEM Challenges to Educate New Discoverers

2023-2024 Important Dates

  • November 17, 2023 - ASCEND PreLaunch Workshop
  • November 18, 2023 - ASCEND Fall Launch
  • March 22, 2024 - ASCEND PreLaunch Workshop
  • March 23, 2024 - ASCEND Spring Launch
  • April 19-20, 2024 - AZ Space Grant Statewide Student Research Symposium


"ASCEND!" (Aerospace STEM Challenges to Educate New Discoverers) is an Arizona Space Grant Consortium statewide Workforce Development program designed to involve undergraduate students from across Arizona in the full "design-build-fly-operate-analyze" cycle of a space mission. Across our state, student teams from The University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Arizona Western CollegeGlendale Community College, Pima Community College (NW), Central Arizona College (Signal Peak), Phoenix College, Diné College, and Casa Grande Union High School, design and build small payloads for launch from high altitude weather balloons. Teams measure various atmospheric parameters as a function of altitude up to about 100,000 feet and some obtain a series of timed images of the Earth throughout the balloon's ascent to characterize surface features, cloud structure, and the Earth's curvature. Participation in this program is geared to complement regular classroom learning by offering direct hands-on immersion with the full mission cycle--something few NASA or aerospace industry scientists and engineers ever see through.

Take a look at this introductory ASCEND video created by Paul Ronquillo (former Phoenix College ASCEND student team lead).


Want more ASCEND tutorials? Check out Paul's accounts on YouTube and BitChute!


And find information on his GitHub Repository

ASCEND! Photo Collection

Find information from our launch provider at Arizona Near Space Research (ANSR).

Each payload must contain an imaging component interfaced with a tracking device (altitude, latitude/longitude). In addition, atmospheric experiments may be determined by each university design team, depending upon goals determined in consultation with program mentors. Experiments may include gathering information to compare atmospheric layers, ozone, greenhouse gases, temperature/pressure/humidity, radiation, air quality, remote sensing and imaging, and more.

Additional and/or alternative innovative engineering or science projects, which are not related to an atmospheric study but which could benefit from the high altitude/low temperature environment (for example, testing the reliability of power cells under low temperature and low pressure conditions), are encouraged. These additional/alternative projects are subject to weight, size and cost restrictions determined for the project and the viability of the experiments in the extremes of the upper atmospheres, where temperatures drop to -60 or -70 °C and atmospheric pressures are nearly negligible.

  • Building a light-weight, mechanically and thermally stable container for the experiments.
  • Correlating the data from your design package with the standard ANSR launch package (i.e., at a minimum, your data/experiment must have a clock/timestamp that is synchronized with the ANSR clock) to allow correlation of the images and any atmospheric data with altitude and geographic location with appropriate timing circuits and self-contained power supplies to drive all components of the package.
  • It is also desirable for your team to monitor and record telemetry for the balloon payload.

All costs (within a specified budget) will be provided for the project. Each semester, teams will congregate in central Arizona for Friday evening pre-launch training workshops followed by Saturday launch and chase-down activities.

Teams will have opportunities to discuss their ASCEND design with representatives from our ANSR launch providers and teams from other participating universities several times throughout the semester during monthly telecons.  During these meetings, participants may ask questions, share experiences, and present their ideas for peer response.

In April, at the end of each program year, team members will present the results of their year's ASCEND! research and development projects at the statewide Arizona NASA Student Research Symposium in a session devoted to high altitude balloon science.

Date ASCEND! FLT# ANSR Flt# Launch site Altitude (ft) Notes
11/18/2023 52 148 Near AZ60 & I-10 Interchange 96,906  
11/18/2023 51 147 Near AZ60 & I-10 Interchange 103,988  
04/01/2023 50 144 Near AZ60 & I-10 Interchange   Upon filling balloon, ANSR noticed there was a hole in it so we had to fill a new balloon causing a slight delay. Balloon landed near Aguila, AZ in difficult area. ANSR had to retrieve the payloads and then distribute to the ASCEND teams.
04/01/2023 49 143 Near AZ60 & I-10 Interchange   Balloon landed near Aguila, AZ in difficult area and had to be retrieved by ANSR to be handed off to the ASCEND student teams.
11/19/2022 48 141 UA Maricopa Agricultural Center 102,272 Difficult retrieval; payloads landed quite a ways off road and required a hike to retrieve the payloads from a desert wash.
11/19/2022 47 140 UA Maricopa Agricultural Center 100,420 Upon burst, it appears that pieces of the balloon wrapped around the parachute and prevented it from fully opening. Quick descent and impact at ~55 mph. Payloads felt the impact!
4/02/2022 46 138 Freeman Road exit, Gila Bend 97,000  
4/02/2022 45 137 Freeman Road exit, Gila Bend 91,000  
11/20/2021 44 135 AZ-85, approx. 12mi S. of Gila Bend 102,303 ANSR flight-135 climbed at a faster rate than ANSR flight-134. ADSB-B for 135 worked throughout the flight.
11/20/2021 43 134 AZ-85, approx. 12mi S. of Gila Bend 103,670 The landing site was more than 20mi east of the predicted area. The ADS-B for ANSR-134 worked shortly after liftoff but then stopped working.  Upon recovery, it was discovered that the battery in the case had shifted during flight and pulled the power pole connector apart.
3/27/2021 42 132 UA Maricopa Agricultural Center    
3/27/2021 41 131 UA Maricopa Agricultural Center    
10/24/2020 40 130 Gila Bend, AZ   Make-up flight for Spring 2020 launch that was canceled due to Covid
11/23/2019 39 129 Pinal County, AZ 105,882 2nd balloon (129) passed first balloon, but 128 went farther down range due to slower ascent rate
11/23/2019 38 128 Pinal County, AZ 106,909 2nd balloon (129) passed first balloon, but 128 went farther down range due to slower ascent rate
11/12/2019 37 127 Dine College Campus, Tsaile, AZ 101,755  
3/30/2019 36 124 Pinal County, AZ 91,202 onboard data loggers may have captured a slightly higher altitude
3/30/2019 35 123 Pinal County, AZ 96,819 onboard data loggers may have captured a slightly higher altitude
3/26/2019 34 122 Dine College campus, Tsaile, AZ  75,927 onboard data loggers may have captured a slightly higher altitude
11/17/2018 33 121 Maricopa 103,218  
11/17/2018 32 120 Maricopa 106,555  
3/3/2018 31 116 Dateland 96,400  
3/3/2018 30 115 Dateland 96,400  
11/17/2017 29 113 Gila Bend 97,500  
11/17/2017 28 112 Gila Bend 97,500  
4/1/2017 27 106 Maricopa    
4/1/2017 26 105 Maricopa    
11/19/2016 25 104 Stanfield 91,405  
11/19/2016 24 103 Stanfield 101,692  
4/2/2016 23 98 Maricopa 94,467  
4/2/2016 22 97 Maricopa 96,619  
11/21/2015 21 95 Maricopa 73,640  
11/21/2015 20 94 Maricopa 78,816  
3/1/2015 19 88 W. Pinal Park 94,688  
11/1/2014 18 86 Maricopa 93,483  
3/29/2014 17 81 Freeman Exit I-8 73,794  
11/23/2013 16 78 Dateland 86,349  
3/23/2013 15 74 Maricopa 93,000  
11/17/2012 14 71 Maricopa 97,940  
3/31/2012 13 67 Maricopa 97,940  
11/19/2011 12 65 Quartzsite 89,977  
3/26/2011 11 60 Gila Bend 85,978  
11/20/2010 10 59 Quartzsite 96,214  
3/27/2010 9 54 Gila Bend 86,450  
11/21/2009 8 52 Gila Bend 93,538  
4/4/2009 7 48 Gila Bend 89,676  
11/22/2008 6 47 Goldwater Rng 95,867  
4/5/2008 5 43 Gila Bend 92,209  
11/17/2007 4 41 Maricopa 99,229  
4/14/2007 3 37 Freeman Exit I-8 92,834  
1/27/2007 2 34 Maricopa 98,856 delayed from 11/6/2006 (Weather)
11/19/2005 1 27 Maricopa 105,761