Follow NASA's super-sized balloon on its gigantic journey

Original news release was issued by NASA.

Two days ago, NASA launched its Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) from a New Zealand facility. The main purpose of the flight of this balloon is to test the Super Pressure technology for long-duration flights (over 100 days). NASA’s current record for SPB flight is set at 54 days. The operational altitude of 33.5 kilometers was achieved only two hours after lift-off. By now, the football-stadium-sized balloon has crossed Southern Australia, going westwards, but it is on its way to enter into eastward flowing winter stratospheric cyclone.

In these southern locations, the balloon should make it around the globe every one to three weeks. Besides focusing on its own journey, the SPB is also equipped with Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) – a gamma-ray (0.2-10 MeV) telescope designed to study astrophysical sources of nuclear line emission. And while COSI is the product of researchers from Space Sciences Laboratory of University of California, Berkeley, the team responsible for the operation of the balloon itself comes from Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF).

Testing the Super pressure Balloon Technology for its capabilities to perform at long-duration flights is very important, as it provides platform for research devices such as COSI. Gamma-ray telescope can benefit greatly from a flight this long, especially when it is conducted at a fraction of a price of cost of a space flight. COSI is designed to find out more about the origins of galactic positrons, creation of new elements, and black holes.

“The team performed a brilliant launch operation today,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The balloon is pressurized, healthy, and well on its way for this important test mission. I’m extremely proud of our Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team for yet another beautiful launch, and I’m thankful for the tremendous support from our Kiwi friends, particularly the phenomenal Wanaka Airport staff.”

The spacious, 532,000-cubic-meter balloon may be visible from the ground, especially around dusk and dawn from southern areas of Argentina and South Africa. For those who want to follow the balloon on its journey, there is a website streaming its current position and flight time. We wish the SPB a long and safe flight.