NSF, NASA Successfully Flight-Test New Balloon Over Antarctica
News story originally written on January 8, 2009
Scientists have created a smaller version of a special balloon that will circulate in the atmosphere above Antarctica to collect scientific information. They tested the small balloon this December and January, and because the test flight was successful they plan to develop a larger version that can be used for scientific research.
The test flight was launched Dec. 28, 2008, from McMurdo Station in Antarctica. During the summer in Antarctica, scientists can launch balloons from a site near McMurdo Station and recover them from almost the same spot weeks later, after the balloons have circled the continent one to three times. Constant daylight in Antarctica in the summer means the temperature doesn't change from day to night. This helps the balloon stay at almost the same altitude for a longer time.
The purpose of this flight was to test the durability and functionality of the scientific balloon's unique pumpkin-shaped design and its new material, a lightweight film about the thickness of ordinary plastic food wrap.
Now that the test flight is over, the team of scientists will need to make the pumpkin balloon used in the test large enough to lift a one-ton instrument to an altitude of 110,000 feet (33.53 kilometers or 20.83 miles). One day the balloon will carry large scientific experiments to the stratosphere for 100 days or more and will play an important role in providing access to the near-space environment for studying science and technology. It costs a lot less than a satellite and the scientific instruments flown on it can be retrieved and launched again.