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Hot air balloons could assist in making space more accessible

Hiring Hoosiers
Posted at 5:30 AM, Apr 23, 2019

Hiring Hoosiers is a new initiative from RTV6 that works to connect Hoosiers to employment opportunities, career development resources, training programs and educational paths. In our Hiring Hoosiers reports we are taking a closer look at barriers to employment and things that get in the way of people getting the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. For more information, visit See new stories weekdays at 6 a.m. on RTV6!

WEST LAFAYETTE — It’s quite a sight. People marvel as hot air balloon lift from the Indiana State Fairgrounds during the fair and float through the atmosphere. But in Mike Hepfer's world, balloons like that could become the vehicles to launch micro-satellites.

"The balloon idea started if you want to put a small payload into orbit a big rocket is the wrong answer," Hepfer said.

Hepfer shared with RTV6 video of showing the future possibility of a hot air balloon delivering needed devices into space.

Micro-satellites can be small, about the size of a toaster. They are in demand around the world. They can be used to help monitor crops, track herds, and assist with oil exploration. In 2015, Leo Aerospace was born on the Purdue campus.

"As a student I did a lot of robotics programs they were late gauge to me and gave me to build those mechanical skills that fed directly into my engineering career," Hepfer said.

Hepfer, who will graduate this May, is part of team looking to create dozens of jobs by putting their engineering degrees to work.

"One of the things that really drives the industry we are in is the passion of the people involved, not only that but also people who are willing to tackle complex problems and are not afraid to jump outside of their comfort zone," Hepfer said. "It's really about how driven you are and what you're willing to learn rather than what you already know.”

Leo Aerospace, based out of Los Angeles, had a successful test launch in December. They expect their first vehicle to space in 2020 and first orbital vehicle in 2021.

LEARN MORE | Leo Aerospace on YouTube

Hepfer also points to another critical success to opening doors.

“I'm working in aerospace right now and because of the foundation that I had with my classes in industrial engineering I was able to learn a lot of the skills needed to keep up in this growing field," Hepfer said. "The other is interpersonal skills. I would not of been able to build on the foundation if I hadn't been able to talk to people and ask for help and learn more from them.”

Hepfer also encourages kids to get involved in science and math exploratory activities in school.

“As a student definitely get involved in any extracurricular activities related to STEM," Hepfer said. "As a student I did a lot of robotics programs they let me build those mechanical skills that fed directly into my engineering career and gave me the confidence in my own abilities to be able to chase dreams like this once I found the education to support that.”

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