Ballooning offers platform for performing research in a space-like environment

January 28, 2015, World Scientific Publishing
A view from the edge of space, the High Energy Replicated Optics to Explore the Sun (HEROES) telescope is a hard X-ray telescope, sensitive in the 20-75 keV range and designed to fly on a high-altitude balloon platform. The HEROES telescope is one example of a balloon payload designed to fly at this altitude. This payload launched from Fort Sumner, NM, in the Fall of 2013, and the flight lasted for 27 hours. At its maximum altitude of just over 39 km, the telescope pointed at the Sun, the black hole candidate GRS 1915+105, and the Crab Nebula, with the capability to carry out high resolution imaging and spectroscopy. The HEROES Project is a collaboration between NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Goddard Space Flight Center and was funded through the NASA Hands On Project Experience Training Opportunity. Credit: R. Salter, Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility

New discoveries are being made on an annual basis by researchers flying their instruments on a high-altitude balloon platform. Ease of access to ballooning, relatively low cost and the potential for quick turn-around response times create a large appeal for using this platform to perform novel science and to train new scientists. This appeal is reinforced by the availability of a range of balloon sizes to accommodate various payload types, multiple launch sites (for shorter and longer duration flights), and more sophisticated gondolas.

Since the 1950s, and the invention of the 'natural' shaped polyethylene balloon, there has been a surge in the quality and amount of science being performed on this . The flexibility, reliability and relatively low-cost of the high-altitude balloon platform, over that of a satellite, makes for an attractive means of carrying out novel in a space-like environment across multiple disciplines, which include: high-energy astrophysics (particle, x-ray and gamma-ray), IR/sub-mm (CMB to planetary), heliophysics, geospace and atmospheric research.

Existing balloons are capable of carrying large payloads to high altitudes for flight durations lasting tens of days. The longest flight to date was that of SuperTIGER in 2012-2013 on a vented zero-pressure . This payload weighed 2,025 kg (not including flight straps) and flew to a maximum altitude of ~39.6 km. The entire flight lasted for just over 55 days. The development of the Super-Pressure Balloon holds promise for achieving even longer flights launching from Antarctica (> 100 days), and Long Duration Balloon flights from mid-latitude launch sites. This capability, combined with improved payload pointing, light-weight gondolas and more sophisticated instrumentation will enable scientists to make and develop novel instrumentation suitable for orbital missions. This platform will also continue to provide a training ground for the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Explore further: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

Related Stories

NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

December 19, 2014

NASA's 2014-2015 Antarctic Scientific Balloon Campaign took to the skies Wednesday, Dec. 17, with the successful launch of the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA-III) from the Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility ...

NASA seeking student experiments for balloon flight

October 28, 2011

NASA is accepting applications from graduate and undergraduate university students to fly experiments to the edge of space on a scientific balloon. This balloon flight competition is a joint project between NASA and the Louisiana ...

New Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

January 9, 2009

( -- NASA and the National Science Foundation have successfully launched and demonstrated a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that may enable a new era of high-altitude scientific research. The super-pressure ...

Recommended for you

Revealing the black hole at the heart of the galaxy

January 22, 2019

Including the powerful ALMA into an array of telescopes for the first time, astronomers have found that the emission from the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the center of the galaxy comes from a smaller region ...

A fleeting moment in time

January 22, 2019

The faint, ephemeral glow emanating from the planetary nebula ESO 577-24 persists for only a short time—around 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms. ESO's Very Large Telescope captured this shell of glowing ...

Milky Way's neighbors pick up the pace

January 22, 2019

After slowly forming stars for the first few billion years of their lives, the Magellanic Clouds, near neighbors of our own Milky Way galaxy, have upped their game and are now forming new stars at a fast clip. This new insight ...

How hot are atoms in the shock wave of an exploding star?

January 21, 2019

A new method to measure the temperature of atoms during the explosive death of a star will help scientists understand the shock wave that occurs as a result of this supernova explosion. An international team of researchers, ...

New eclipsing cataclysmic variable discovered

January 21, 2019

Using the Mobile Astronomical System of Telescope-Robots (MASTER), an international team of astronomers has detected a new eclipsing cataclysmic variable. The newfound object, designated MASTER OT J061451.70–272535.5, is ...

The disintegrating exoplanet K2-22b

January 21, 2019

Exoplanet surveys have yielded many surprises over the years, and the discovery of "disintegrating" exoplanets was one of them. These are planets that produce asymmetric shapes in the dips of the light curves seen as they ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.