The Aerospace Payload Program aims to provide students easy access to “near-space” through the use of weather balloons to lift small payloads to the edge of the atmosphere (85,000-100,000 ft. altitude). Every fall more than 30 first year aerospace engineering students undertake a balloon payload project. Maryland is one of only a small number of universities nationwide to successfully launch and track so many balloons. Since 2003, the program has launched more than 90 balloons. Students engineer every aspect of the launch program from payload design and construction to vehicle launch, recovery and post-flight data analysis. Developing the projects requires students to learn skills in a variety of different areas—such as electronic circuits, thermal design, structures, sensors and 3D-printing—as well as teamwork to pull off the final project.
William Cooper Gilbert, ’16 served as operations director of the Aerospace Payload Program during his time as a student. In honor and gratitude for all that the program gave him, he established the Aerospace Payload Program Directorship Scholarship to recognize the hard work and leadership qualities of the student who takes on the directorship role in the program.