Scientific ballooning: near-space access without rockets

Aug 4, 2022, 5:30 PM
Erice, Sicily, Italy

Erice, Sicily, Italy

Ettore Majorana Center for Scientific Culture, Erice, Sicily, Italy
senior participant contribution


John Mitchell (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)


Abstract: Modern scientific balloons are capable of lifting payloads weighing up to about 2000 kg to altitudes of approximately 36 km, within 0.5% of the top of the atmosphere. The basic balloon technology was developed in the 1950s as a form of very-high-altitude, difficult to detect “spy aircraft”. Today, The NASA Scientific balloon program conducts flights from the continental US, Antarctica, Australia, Sweden, and recently New Zealand. From Antarctica, conventional “zero-pressure” balloons routinely fly for 30 days and in 2012, the SuperTIGER instrument flew for 55 days, the record for heavy scientific flights. A new “superpressure” balloon (SPB) developed by NASA shows promise of even longer flights even at mid-latitude. Balloons have been exceptionally important in Cosmic Ray research, and most direct measurements of galactic cosmic rays (GCR) have been made by balloon-borne instruments. Here a brief introduction to the history and current capability of the scientific balloon program, as well as practical comments on balloon payloads will be given, together with comments on emerging capabilities.

Primary author

John Mitchell (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Presentation materials