Talking with the Stanford Space Initiative

Despite its youth, the Stanford Space Initiative is propelling aerospace technology and leadership. It has quckily become the largest project-based group on campus and continues to set remarkable goals. Here, several SSI leaders share some of what they have learned.

On June 2nd 2015, Huan and Dustin from got a chance to speak with leaders of the fastest growing organization at Stanford, the Stanford Space Initiative (SSI). Founded in 2013, SSI has grown to become the largest project-based group on campus. Shortly after starting our conversation, it was readily apparent how they are serious about developing the future leaders of our space industry.

We think they will do it.

Within just a few years, they have already accomplished so much by building CubeSats, rockets, and HABs–all while inspiring others in those communities. Now, their members are getting internships and jobs at top aerospace companies.

Quickly into our interview, SSI’s Media Manager pulled in the reins on the conversation. “We can talk tech all day, but what is it you really want to accomplish here?” he said. We quickly caught on; this group is not simply about geeking out to the coolest, newest spacecraft and high altitude equipment.

What followed was a discussion of the pros and cons of hosting a group like SSI through a student-led organization. They reported that dealing with the bureaucracy of a collegiate institution was challenging, but they are hopeful that this “legitimization” and backing from their university helps with future growth. We talked about the Saint Louis region and possible interested parties, such as Boeing, the Saint Louis Science Center, and some of our local universities and K-12 schools. Here at, we are focused on education, and our region looks fertile for exploration.

SSI has multiple technology development groups that have produced impressive results. We are particularly intrigued by their long distance high altitude balloon flights using latex. Typically, a launch consists of a flight time between 1 and 3 hours, climaxing with the burst of the latex balloon. This occurs when its internal pressure overcomes the reducing external pressure during assent. At the time of our interview, SSI had recently launched SSI-21, the first full-systems test of their valve and ballast system used to regulate altitude, thus preventing a burst or premature landing. They were referring to it with the portmanteau ValBal.

“With longer distance flights and more expensive payloads, there is a greater need and difficulty for recovery after the flight,” Dustin said. It would be helpful if the HAB community had a way of leveraging the national network of scientists and hobbyists to recover these payloads. For example, SSI could launch their balloon in California and terminate the flight over one of many possible recovery zones. There, a group or local individual from the community could recover and return the expensive payload.

To appreciate the HAB community, check out ARHAB’s (Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon website) that collects and posts mission information such as launch location and time, tracking frequencies, and other mission owner data. Also, habhub has awesome tools for flight prediction, tracking, and communication with other HAB enthusiasts. Despite these terrific resources, as of yet, we at know of no recovery network within the community. As our members geographically stretch from Southern Iowa, through central Missouri, to Southeastern Illinois, we capture at least a portion of the Midwest. Additionally, friends in Minnesota to Texas allow for a more or less contiguous band of help in the middle of the country. We hope we can be of service and look forward to learning more about SSI’s efforts.