Sandia Research can design, manage, and command difficult one-of-a-kind projects. This photo is from the Two Eagles gas balloon flight across the Pacific Ocean - setting two absolute FAI world records for duration and distance. Sandia Research designed the Mission Control and SRC's Steven Shope was Mission Control Director.

Two Eagles Project

Mission Control - Albuquerque, NM USA

World Records

The team’s distance of 6,646 miles (10,696 km) surpassed the existing record of 5,208 miles (8,383 km), set by Double Eagle V pilots Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman, Ron Clark, and Rocky Aoki in 1981, by 27%. The team stayed aloft for 160 hours, 38 minutes (6 days, 16 hours, 38 minutes), besting by 17% the previous record of 137 hours, 5 minutes, 50 seconds set in 1978 by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman aboard the Double Eagle II.

In flight - view from gondola

Trajectory across Pacific Ocean

Gondola - readied for launch - Saga, Japn

Immediately after launch

Unexpected Media Interest more than 1 B Media Impressions

Arizona's Unmanned Test Range Project




In response to the FAA's call for proposals to develop an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test range complex, the State of Arizona's Commerce Authority hired Sandia Research President, Steven Shope, to be the Director of the Arizona Test Range Complex ((AzTRC) for this effort. Although Arizona was eventually not selected, the State was very proud of the submitted proposal. AzTRC's airspace alloted to this effort was larger than the State of Connecticut.


The goal of this endeavor was to develop the tools, techniques, and methodology to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) without adversely impacting existing users. AzTRC’s proposed research plan showed that Arizona is uniquely positioned to answer safely and efficiently. The proposed AzTRC airspace would enable AzTRC Team Members, and other potential users, to test all groups of UAS in a safe, flexible, real world environment.  Additionally, it will validate UAS and associated processes and training.


With 340 days of flyable weather, Arizona offers opportunities to fly year round thereby building a robust experience base for the FAA. Leveraging this climate advantage, most of the proposed research will be conducted in Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), assuring the safety of the other users as well as preventing controlled flight into terrain or other obstacles.


Arizona’s low population density and rural areas provide large and nearly uninhabited ranges which are ideal to evaluate this promising but nascent technology without risk to persons or property. These ranges can easily be partitioned to enable multiple simultaneous UAS flights, and also create large buffer zones to prevent accidental departure from the approved boundaries.


In summary:


AzTRC offers access to some of the largest and safest UAS test areas in CONUS

• AzTRC Test Ranges total ~6,700 square miles of mostly uninhabited, government owned land

• AzTRC can safely test all classes of UAS in five airspace classes

• Ranges include up to unlimited altitude

• All three Test Ranges have a long history of close collaboration with local airspace controllers and users

Global Hilton


In the autumn of 1997, pilot Dick Rutan contracted the design and construction of the World Flight WF-1 Global Hilton manned high altitude balloon system in an attempt to circumnavigate the earth by balloon. Sandia's Steven Shope was hire to mange this entire project. The $1m attempt at one of aviation's last frontiers was the third by a balloon team since December 31, 1997. In addition, to the monetary component, approximately 200 volunteers greatly contributed to this effort.


The balloon system used a Cameron R-420 envelope, while the 8ft-diameter carbon-fiber sphere, built by Scaled Composites Industries and pressurized to 12,000 feet altitude equivalent, featured a single pilot station and private sleeping quarters for the two crew members to take rounds. At the cold temperatures (as low as minus 100° F) found at the balloon's operating altitude above 40,000 feet, propane looses the vapor pressure it has near sea level and cannot flow without assistance. A nitrogen pressurization system provided the boost required to get the propane out of the tanks under these extremely cold conditions. The propane tanks alone held 5,000 pounds of propane.


The two pilots of the Global Hilton Rozière  balloon, Dick Rutan, 59 (who had previously designed the Aeolus 1 for the same purpose), and Dave Melton, 39, attempted to circumnavigate the world nonstop, but free-fell before opening their parachutes and landing in good condition about 100 miles (161 kilometers) away from the take-off site at Albuquerque, New Mexico, after a technical problem dashed their plans. During ground and flight operations, the capsule systems had performed flawlessly, but during the flight, a helium cell in the top of the silver balloon ruptured at an altitude of about 9,000 meters (30,000 feet).


Immediately after launch

Capsule being readied for launch

Pilot Dick Rutan and Mission Director Steven Shope

Pilots Dick Rutan and Dave Melton



In another Around-the-World balloon attempt, a unique concept was to fly the balloon to the edge of space - 130,000 feet - the upper reaches of the stratosphere. Team RE/MAX's Re/Max Flyer planned to be circling 24 miles above Earth's surface, and it would be flying through a deadly, nearly airless realm of freezing temperatures and burning heat. During the initial stages of this effort, Sandia's Steven Shope was the Chief Engineer for this project. At 130,000 feet, skimming above 99.6 percent of Earth's atmosphere, it might as well be in space. As part of a scheme to achieve what may be the last of the big firsts — to circle the globe by balloon — Martin, an Albuquerque television news reporter, along with 53-year-old Denver real estate executive Dave Liniger and 42-year-old Australian balloonist John Wallington, were planning to use a helium balloon to lift this pressurized pod beyond the reach of the capricious weather that has so far frustrated 17 previous attempts to win ballooning's ultimate prize. Riding the smooth currents of the stratosphere, Team RE/MAX planned to navigate a 22,800-mile route around the Southern Hemisphere while dangling beneath the biggest manned-balloon envelope in history. The balloon was as tall as the Empire State Building and larger than the Astrodome. The envelope was made of 13 acres of thin, clear polyethylene, only 0.8 millimeters thick in places, or about half the thickness of a human hair. The balloon had a capacity of more than 170,000 cubic feet of helium to launch, a volume that will expand to 40 million cubic feet in the upper stratosphere, 571 times larger than a standard expeditionary hot-air balloon. The hull was welded from plates of aluminum alloy and was insulated against the night cold with a two-inch Ethafoam coating. The pod features three supposedly crashworthy seats, a climate-control system that pipes in oxygen and nitrogen from exterior tanks, and a high-tech scrubber to prevent a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide. There were only two ways to control the balloon from inside the gondola: by dropping some of the 1,300 pounds of ballast to go up or by venting helium to go down. In the event of a slow leak, the crew members would don pressure suits. If necessary, they will strap parachutes on over the suits and bail out.

3-Person capsule during construction

Spirit of Peace


Sandia's Steven Shope was the Mission Manager for another Around-the-World balloon attempt,. Tis flight was more conventional and would at an altitude of approximately 36,000 feet. After a year of waiting for ideal trajectories to appear and obtaining China overflight permission, the mission was canceled.

Capsule arriving from England on board an Antonov


Mission Planning

High Altitude Balloons


High altitude scientific balloons have been used for decades to conduct scientific studies in upper stratosphere - also known as "near space." While the basics of ballooning have not changed in the last 250 years, balloon capabilities have increased and their dependability has improved greatly. Scientific Balloons...

  •  can be launched from locations worldwide to support scientific needs.
  •  can be readied for flight in as little as six months.
  •  offer a low-cost method of conducting science investigations.
  •  provide a stable platform for longer flight durations.


This area of the atmosphere is too high for aircraft and too low for rocket payloads. Scientists use scientific data collected during balloon flights to help answer very important questions about the universe, atmosphere, the Sun and the space environment.


Standard scientific balloons are constructed of polyethylene film; the same type material used for plastic bags. This material is only 0.002 centimeters (0.0008 inches) thick, about the same as an ordinary sandwich wrap. The film is cut into banana-peel shaped sections called gores and heat-sealed together to form the balloon. Up to 180 gores are used to make the largest balloons. These standard, zero-pressure, balloons are open to the atmosphere at the bottom to equalize the internal pressure with the surroundings as the balloon ascends. The balloon system includes the balloon, the parachute and a payload that holds instruments to conduct scientific measurements. Helium, is used in most scientific balloons. These very large balloons can carry a payload weighing as much as 3,600 kilograms (8,000 pounds). They can fly up to 42 kilometers (26 miles) high and stay there for two weeks or longer. The balloons are launched by partially filling it with helium and launched with the payload section suspended beneath it. As the balloon rises, the helium expands, filling the balloon until it reaches float altitude in two to three hours. After the science measurements are complete, flight controllers send a radio command that separates the payload from the balloon. The payload floats back to the ground on a parachute where it can be retrieved and flown again. Payload separation creates a large tear in the balloon material, which releases any remaining helium. The balloon also falls to the ground, where it s retrieved and discarded. The balloon and payload land approximately 45 minutes after separation.


When the payload package loses line-of-sight communications with Mission Control, there becomes an uncertainty as to the final landing point. In the early 1990s, Sandia built an over the horizon (OTH) satellite based communications system for payload packages. The initial flight was the first time email was sent from space.

Prior to Launch

Immediately After Launch