High-altitude balloon

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The BLAST high altitude balloon just before launch on June 12, 2005.

High-altitude balloons are unmanned balloons, usually filled with helium or hydrogen and rarely methane, that are released into the stratosphere, generally attaining between 60,000 to 120,000 ft (11 to 23 mi; 18 to 37 km). In 2002, a balloon named BU60-1 attained 53.0 km (32.9 mi; 173,900 ft).[1]

The most common type of high altitude balloons are weather balloons. Other purposes include use as a platform for experiments in the upper atmosphere. Modern balloons generally contain electronic equipment such as radio transmitters, cameras, or satellite navigation systems, such as GPS receivers.

These balloons are launched into what is termed "near space"—- the area of Earth's atmosphere where there is very little air, but where the remaining amount generates too much drag for satellites to remain in orbit.

Due to the low cost of GPS and communications equipment, high altitude ballooning is a popular hobby, with organizations such as UKHAS assisting the development of payloads.[2][3]

An example image from a hobby high altitude balloon launched by the Make Stuff Club from Kalamazoo College
Photographed at approximately 100,000 ft (30,000 m) above Oregon using a 1,500 g (3.3 lb) weather balloon.


The first hydrogen balloon[edit]

In France during 1783, the first public experiment with hydrogen-filled balloons involved Jacques Charles, a French professor of physics, and the Robert brothers, renowned constructors of physics instruments.

Charles provided large quantities of hydrogen, which had only been produced in small quantities previously, by mixing 540 kg (1,190 lb) of iron and 270 kg (600 lb) of sulfuric acid. The balloon, called Charlière, took 5 days to fill and was launched from Champ de Mars in Paris where 300,000 people gathered to watch the spectacle. The balloon was launched and rose through the clouds. The expansion of the gas caused the balloon to tear and it descended 45 minutes later 20 km (12 mi) away from Paris.[4]


Manned high-altitude balloons were used from the 1930s to 1960s for research and in seeking flight altitude records.[5] They have also been considered for use in space tourism.[5]

Unmanned high-altitude balloons are widely used to collect data and imagery from near space, and have become popular among educational institutions and enthusiasts as they do not require many resources for conducting launch.[6]

Private companies such as zero2infinity and World View Enterprises are developing both manned and unmanned high-altitude balloons for scientific research, commercial purposes, and space tourism.[7][8]

Testing radio range is often a large component to these hobbies. Amateur radio is often used with packet radio to communicate with 1200 baud using a system called Automatic Packet Reporting System back to the ground station. Smaller packages called micro or sometimes pico trackers are also built and run under smaller balloons. These smaller trackers have used Morse code, Field Hell and RTTY to transmit their locations and other data.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Research on Balloon to Float over 50km Altitude". Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, JAXA. Retrieved 2011-09-29. 
  2. ^ "DIY balloon sent up 30km" Boing Boing dated 26 October 2007. Recovered on 8 June 2008
  3. ^ McDermott, Vincent. "Space race for DIYers" National Post dated 30 April 2011. Recovered on 28 December 2011
  4. ^ G. Pfotzer, "History of the use of Balloons in Scientific Experiments", Space Science Reviews 13:2 pp.200 (1972). Recovered on 11 February 2009
  5. ^ a b López-Urdiales, José Mariano (October 19, 2002). "The Role of Balloons in the Future Development of Space Tourism" (PDF). Houston, Texas. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  6. ^ "Introduction to High Altitude Balloons". DIY Space Exploration. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Betancourt, Mark (July 2015). "See The World From 100,000 Feet". Air & Space. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Wall, M. (2014). World View to Loft Experiments on Balloon Test Flights This Year. "Space.com." Retrieved from http://www.space.com/26658-world-view-balloon-research-flights.html
  9. ^ "Amateur Radio Astronomy and weather reporting". 

External links[edit]