November 17, 2009

Long Duration Balloons:  Their volume can be equal to the Astrodomes volume.  295 Goodyear blimps could fit inside one.  They are made of polyethylene as thin as the plastic you wrap your sandwich in. They can carry a payload up to 8000 pounds for over 50 days at an altitude over 100,000 feet.  Don’t confuse long duration balloons with weather balloons.  Typical weather balloons are made of thin rubber, are much smaller and don’t fly as high.

A small division within NASA designs, builds, and tests these long duration balloons.  Scientists and researchers pay money to use them for data collection. Payloads (of up to 8000 pounds) carrying the scientist’s instruments are attached to the bottom of the balloons.  The distance from the bottom of the payload to the top of the balloon can be 1000’ feet.  When the mission is over the payload is released from the balloon by some kind of radio signal.  It floats to the ground with the help of a parachute.  The balloon is deflated and also floats to Earth.  The payload and balloon are then, hopefully, recovered.

Long Duration Balloons can provide many of the same opportunities and benefits to researchers as satellites, but at a cost that is 10 to 20 percent the cost.

Antarctica and the McMurdo area is one of the most popular places on Earth to launch these balloons.  I’m not sure why, but the small human population is one reason.  Another benefit is the 24 hours of sunlight per day.  The constant sunlight makes it easier to keep the balloons at a level elevation. (Perhaps, because it keeps the temperature and pressure more constant?)

The plan is to have 3 balloon launches while I’m down here.  I hope to get the opportunity to witness one.  You can get more information from the following website:   http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/





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