NPS intern spends summer engineering balloon tech


Ryan Ricupero holding the payload he helped build during his internship at the Naval Postgraduate School.

While many students were recovering from a long school year by relaxing last summer at the beach or hanging out with friends, junior Ryan Ricupero was busy interning at the Naval Postgraduate School working under the Space Systems Academic Group with eight other interns tasked to engineer a high-altitude balloon payload that could record data at different altitudes.

Hoping to pursue a career in aerospace and aeronautical engineering, Ricupero was put in charge of designing the parachute release mechanism.

“In order to design the parachute release mechanism, I had to build my design around the micro actuators available to me at NPS,” Ricupero says. “I initially designed a way to hold the actuator in place, and then figured out a way to mount it to the chassis of our payload. During this process, I printed multiple revisions on the 3D printer in order to further refine my design. It was a long process, but in the end, it turned out to be a great design.”

When the project was complete, the group of interns was ready to launch their payload, a data-collecting mechanism, in the Central Valley at 80,000 feet. The payload, equipped with a GPS tracker, a Samsung gear 360 camera and multiple sensors to collect data, was a success as the payload landed and was retrieved with little to no damage.

Reflecting on his time at the school, Ricupero says, “My experiences at NPS were extraordinary because of my mentors and fellow interns. Our camaraderie helped us complete our project successfully on schedule, and I made many good friendships at NPS as a result.”

Not only has Ricupero interned at NPS, but he has repeatedly participated in the Mathletics program, placing in the top ten in the county twice and first place in the county in fifth grade.

Ricupero excels in science and math, but is also well-regarded in humanities.

“Ryan is a fantastic student because he is curious and he puts in the effort to learn,” Carmel High School French teacher Suzanne Marden comments. “He is a really hard worker, and honestly, it will take him far in life.”

When Ricupero isn’t busy doing homework for multiple Advanced Placement classes, he participates in the Robotics club at Carmel High School, and enjoys designing and building his own remote control airplanes, as well as building his own desktop computer and 3D printer in his free time.

Ricupero is also in the process of getting a private pilot license and has amassed over ten hours of training.