Date of Award

Winter 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Robert L. Ash

Committee Member

Colin P. Britcher

Committee Member

Brett A. Newman


Aerial platforms can fill a measurement gap between orbiters and rovers, providing planetary scale high resolution in situ measurements, access to scientifically interesting terrain that is either inaccessible or hazardous to rovers, and serve as a planet-wide delivery platforms to deploy surface probes and rovers to areas inaccessible given existing entry, descent, and landing systems. A permanent robotic outpost on the Martian surface can utilize locally-derived hydrogen as a lifting gas for balloon systems deployed from Mars. That approach can simplify the inflation and launch of aerial vehicles while allowing for a long duration deployment campaign that is not constrained by Earth-launch windows. The purpose of this thesis is to provide a high level evaluation of the size, type, instrumentation, and number of aerial vehicles necessary for a successful long duration planetary scale balloon mission. A series of "small" meteorological balloons (1,800 m³) with radio sonde instrumentation similar to contemporary terrestrial meteorological sounding balloons can provide year round in situ vertical profile atmospheric measurements of pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed up to 20 km altitude, for verification of global circulation models. Larger (35,200 m³ – 38,800 m³) heavy payload balloons can provide long duration, planetary scale missions expanding atmospheric measurements and enabling high resolution geological, geochemical, and geophysical data – with a single balloon carrying a 100 kg payload floating at nominally 10 km above Mars reference surface altitude, capable of circumnavigating the planet more than three times during a conservative 20 sol mission. Incorporating buoyancy control into heavy payload balloon systems may provide sufficient lateral control to enable the investigation of specific features of Mars or even delivery of payloads to locations that are inaccessible to entry, descent, and landing systems.