NASA Takes Off to Skies in Balloons Modified to Last 100 Days

NASA has launched its latest heavy-lift ballooning with its super pressure balloon (SPB) technology off New Zealand’s Wanaka measuring 18.8 million-cubic-foot (532,000 cubic-meter) for an an ultra-long-duration flight of up to 100 days.

It is scheduled to circumnavigte the globe once every three weeks or less depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

The football stadium-size balloon is made from 22-acres of polyethylene film – similar to a sandwich bag, but stronger and more durable. It will ascend to a nearly constant float altitude of 110,000 feet (33.5 km) and travel eastward carrying a 2,260-pound (1,025 kg) payload consisting of tracking, communications and scientific instruments.

“We are thrilled to be back in New Zealand for another test flight of this critical, potentially game-changing technology,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief.

Steven Boggs, leader of the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) collaboration said:”The long duration and night-time observation capabilities of SPBs are transformative. COSI is just the first science payload to take advantage of these new capabilities.”

A NASA super pressure balloon launched at 10:12 a.m. March 27 (5:12 p.m. (NASA)

A NASA super pressure balloon launched at 10:12 a.m. March 27 (5:12 p.m. (NASA)

COSI last flew the SPB from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Dec. 28, 2014 but it developed a small leak, leading to an early flight termination just one day and 20 hours after launch.

To track the progress of the flight via a map showing the balloon’s real-time location is available at:

The latest balloon has been developed after learning from the leak in the past balloon experiments due to gradual slipping of the balloon material at the metal fittings on the base and top of the balloon structure. This time, modifications to the balloon made clamps at the metal fittings made by adding a gasket material and increasing the clamping force at the fittings.

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