National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Group Project

Space Academy Dropsonde (SAD)

Research Associates

Gina Benigno, Kathleen Hoza, Spencer Lane, Brian Moore, Samira Motiwala, Kirsti Pajunen, Nathan Peck, Jacob Poldruhi


An autonomous guidance and navigation system for a dropsonde is proposed for operation in a volcano plume environment. Project objectives include tracking and controlling a dropsonde’s movements through the atmosphere while having the capability to operate in the harsh volcanic plume environment. A prototype system for guiding dropsondes will be designed and tested for a feasibility demonstration. The dropsonde prototype will consist of a cylindrical body that houses the avionics system, including but not limited to an inertial measurement unit, microcontroller and GPS device. Additionally, the dropsonde will be attached to a parachute controlled by servomechanism actuators.

The dropsonde will be tested at 500 feet by dropping the module from tall buildings and subsequently a tethered balloon after establishing stability and viability of the design. During flight test, real-time telemetry will be obtained from on-board sensors to obtain altitude and GPS data. This proof-of-concept will demonstrate a simple and low-cost solution for guiding a dropsonde system to designated target locations within a volcano plume