- Press Release
- Feb 6, 2023
NASA Balloon Research to the Edge of Space
Headquarters, Washington, DC
Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA
Balloon Launching Station, Alice Springs Airport, Australia
The countdown is underway for the launch of a
revolutionary research-balloon designed to fly higher and
longer than anything before it, and the flight could open a
new era in scientific research.
NASA’s new Ultra-Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) is scheduled to
lift off Jan. 16 from Alice Springs, Australia, and will
carry the hopes of many scientists who see balloon technology
as an economical means of studying the Earth and space.
“Although balloons have been flying for more than 200 years
and scientists have long used them for a variety of research
missions, the length of time balloons can stay aloft has
always constrained their efforts,” said Steve Smith, Chief of
the Balloon Program Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. “Thanks
to greatly enhanced computer technologies, high-tech
materials and advanced designs, longer-range balloons are
poised to open a new frontier for high-altitude research”.
The balloon is expected to float over the Southern Hemisphere
at an altitude of approximately 115,000 feet (35 kilometers),
3 to 4 times higher than passenger planes. While the test
flight is expected to last only about two weeks and
circumnavigate the globe, the ULDB is designed to support
missions for up to 100 days.
“Balloons provide cost-effective platforms for near-space
observations,” said Dr. Vernon Jones, Office of Space
Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “This January
flight provides an excellent opportunity to test the newly
designed ULDB system.”
The full-scale ULDB is the largest single-cell, super-
pressure (fully sealed) balloon ever flown. At launch, the
balloon is partially inflated with helium and expands as it
rises. When fully inflated, the massive ULDB would barely fit
inside a domed football stadium.The ULDB floats above 99
percent of the Earth’s atmosphere and can carry a 3,500-pound
(1.588-kilogram) payload. The balloon system comes down in a
controlled descent. It may be visible from the ground with a
telescope and, in some cases, with the naked eye.
The ULDB’s unique pumpkin-shaped design and its novel
material, a lightweight polyethylene film about the thickness
of ordinary plastic food-wrap, were successfully tested
during a prototype flight from Ft. Sumner, NM, last June.
“Recent development of new balloon materials and associated
technologies will enable challenging, important
investigations to be done at relatively modest cost,” said
Jones. He added that the ability to fly balloons for months
or years at a time would create a multitude of scientific and
Conventional high-altitude, scientific balloon flights
typically last a few days to a week because temperature
changes from day to night ultimately cause the balloon to
lose altitude. The ULDB is completely sealed, so gas is not
vented to relieve pressure. The new super-pressure balloon
will maintain lift, size and shape, and will not lose
significant altitude due to atmospheric influences.
Future science missions for the ULDB will study the source of
cosmic rays generated from shock waves emanating from
supernovae and will perform surveys of X-ray emiting objects
in the universe, search for planets around other nearby stars
and will study other objects in space, including the Sun.
The Wallops Flight Facility manages NASA’s scientific balloon
program for the Office of Space Science. Launch operations
are conducted by the National Scientific Balloon Facility,
Palestine, TX, which is managed for NASA by the Physical
Sciences Laboratory of New Mexico State University, Las
Cruces. Australian operational support to NASA is provided by
the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization.
More information on the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon mission
and tracking of the balloon flight can be found at: