Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Engineering


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Kristina Lemmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Kathryn Docherty

Third Advisor

Dr. Peter Gustafson


Zero pressure balloon, sampling vessel, scientific balloons, airborne microbial communities, cut down system

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


The study of airborne microbial communities in the vertical atmosphere is an area of research in which very little data has been collected and analyzed. Developing a vehicle to house biological sampling equipment that collects, and mitigates contamination is required by a team of biology researchers to perform sampling of atmospheric microbial communities. This study uses a sampler box that is attached to aerostatic vehicles: zero pressure balloons and tethered balloon/kite structures. Zero pressure balloons are used for sampling at altitudes above 150 m above sea level, and tethered balloon/kite structures are used for sampling at 30 m and 150 m above ground. Sampling also includes a ground-based platform at 2 m above ground. The sampler box contains petri dishes that are used to collect atmospheric microbial biomass from which community DNA is extracted. Material selection requirements were set by the biologists to ensure the samples are not contaminated by the sampler box and were reusable. The sampler box was designed and built to follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations on unmanned free and moored balloons. Therefore, the sampling box weighs less than 6 pounds. HAM radios are used to communicate with and track the sampler box. Accounting for all of this, a sampling system for varying altitude collection was developed.