This article is more than 1 year old

US poised to unleash stadium-sized sandwich bag

Super pressure balloon mission launch is go

NASA's long-duration super pressure balloon (SPB) mission looks to be set for launch tomorrow morning from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, now that "forecast surface and low-level winds are aligned", as the space agency puts it.

The SPB is made of "22 acres of polyethylene film – similar to a sandwich bag" and swells to a whopping 516,499 cubic metres when fully engorged with helium, or put another way is "big enough to encompass a football stadium". It's designed for "ultra-long-duration flight of up to 100 days at mid-latitudes", lofting scientific payloads to a more-or-less constant float altitude of 33.5km, as a budget alternative to sending them into orbit atop rockets.

The engorged SPB balloon. Pic: NASA / Bill Rodman

The engorged SPB. Pic: NASA / Bill Rodman

For tomorrow's launch, the main payload is the University of California's Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), intended to "probe the mysterious origins of galactic positrons, study the creation of new elements in the galaxy, and perform pioneering studies of gamma-ray bursts and black holes".*

NASA hopes to get off the ground between 8 and 10 AM NZ time (20:00 - 22:00 GMT or 4 - 6 PM EDT today (Monday) for those of us in Europe and the US). There will be webcam footage and a live tracking map here.

All being well, those south of the equator might catch a glimpse of the SPB in the coming days as it rides the wind. NASA explains: "As the balloon travels around Earth, it may be visible from the ground – particularly at sunrise and sunset – to those who live in the southern hemisphere's mid-latitudes, such as New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and South Africa."

The current SPB flight record is 54 days, on a mission which began at the previous Antarctica launch site back in 2009. The first orb departing Wanaka in 2015 stayed up for 32 days, 5 hours, and 51 minutes before a leak prompted a flight abort over Outback Australia.


*Or that's what NASA would have you believe. We have chilling evidence which points to a far more sinister purpose to this SPB mission. ®

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like