NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon Circumnavigates the Globe

Round-the-world journey is a success, reinforcing the capabilities of near-space scientific balloon flights.

NASA Super Pressure Balloon
NASA's super pressure balloon is prepared for lift off at Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, last week.NASA

NASA’s super pressure balloon hit a new milestone on Tuesday, completing its first circumnavigation of the globe after 14 days, 13 hours and 17 minutes of flight. Flying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload, the 18.8 million-cubic-foot balloon departed from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, and flew at 53.85 knots, at an altitude of 110,170 feet.

“Long duration, heavy-lift scientific balloon flights are poised to open doors for science and technology payloads seeking low-cost access to the near-space environment,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief.

NASA Super Pressure Balloon
The balloon's path around the globe.NASA

On May 30, the COSI team had a breakthrough in detecting and localizing its first gamma ray burst, which the onboard COSI gamma ray telescope observed for about 10 seconds. The COSI team is still reporting data to the payload’s control center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The completion of the balloon’s first mid-latitude circumnavigation marks a key mission milestone and brings us one step closer in setting a new flight duration record,” says John Pullen, vice president and general manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.

“We are also pleased that important science data, such as the discovery of a gamma ray burst, is already being collected on the mission, which reinforces the capabilities of NASA’s scientific balloons in providing affordable, near-space access for conducting scientific investigations.”