Press Release

Stratospheric Balloon Constellations for Earth science

By SpaceRef Editor
March 19, 2001
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Global Aerospace Corporation announced today that a decision has been made by the NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) to fund the second year of the Phase II contract to develop a revolutionary concept for networks of stratospheric balloons. Constellations of superpressure balloons can help scientists and meteorologists study many major environmental and weather prediction problems. Tropical atmosphere circulation, global radiation balance, and polar ozone depletion could be studied from a global or regional network of instrumented balloons. These networks could assist in pollution monitoring, weather and hurricane forecasting and tracking, and global circulation studies. As the cost of satellite operations continues to increase, the need for less expensive and more efficient in situ systems for some observations becomes more apparent.

Global Aerospace Corporation’s concept involves a new type of stratospheric platform based on advanced balloon technology. This system, called the StratoSatô platform, circles the Earth at a constant altitude of 35 km [114,800 ft] for 3 to 10 years (see figure 1). A StratoSailÆ Trajectory Control System (TCS) guides the balloon system. Also being developed by Global Aerospace Corporation, the TCS utilizes a wing and rudder to react against wind streams in the atmosphere. The StratoSailô TCS is located 15 km below the balloon at an altitude of 20 km [65,600 ft], which is above most aircraft.

Constellations of StratoSatô platforms would augment and complement many satellite measurements, and possibly even replace some environmental measurement satellites. The keys to implementing this new concept are (a) affordable, long-duration balloon systems, (b) balloon flight path control capability, (c) constellation geometry management, and (d) a global communications infrastructure.

Figure 1. Global Constellation of Stratospheric Scientific Platforms

In today’s satellite era there has been a shift away from ground based conventional measuring systems to remote sensing from Earth orbiting spacecraft. National priorities emphasize the use of high technology space systems partly because measurements from ground based locations have been labor-intensive and expensive. However, high satellite launch costs necessitate higher satellite reliability, which increases the required investment in satellite systems. After forty years, a new, more affordable strategy is being considered.

An inexpensive and long-lived balloon network is now possible due to the advances in electronics, communications, and balloon technologies. Together, the inherent difficulty of making remote measurements from satellites, a new interest in simultaneous global measurements, and the high cost of space operations argue for a reevaluation of the current reliance on satellites for many global environmental measurements.

During the first year of Phase II, Global Aerospace Corporation developed a simulation capability to evaluate new constellation geometries related to hurricane monitoring and tracking. These new simulations indicate that with minimal balloon path modification, we can track and observe a hurricane. In addition, working with Princeton University, GAC has developed a new framework for constellation geometry management that utilizes organizational concepts from behavior of living creatures (flocks, schools, and pods).

In the upcoming second year of Phase II, Global Aerospace Corporation will continue to help scientists and researchers identify applications for global balloon constellations. GAC is also developing balloon and payload system concepts, designing advanced balloon flight path control systems, researching geometry management for global constellations, and investigating international overflight issues. For more information on global balloon networks see:

SpaceRef staff editor.