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National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientific Ballooning.

Balloon Program Office

Super Pressure Balloons

Background for the Super Pressure Balloon Development

Zero Pressure balloons have demonstrated over the years that they can fly for extended periods when flying under conditions of constant sunlight. These flights are referred to by NASA as Long Duration Ballooning or LDB flights. Typically these flights take place in two locations at different times of the year.

  • Northern Sweden to Canada flights in June/July – 4 to 7 day flights
  • Antarctica, circling the continent in December/January – 10 day to 4+ weeks flights
World Map with Flight Launch Locations Marked


Flying at mid-latitudes presents a challenge for Zero Pressure Balloons. As the sun sets each night, the balloon and the Helium lifting gas cool down. As the gas cools, the buoyancy is reduced and the balloon flies at a much lower altitude. Each night, some weight needs to be dropped off of the system to prevent it from sinking too much in altitude. The ballast required to be dropped each night can be 6% to 8% of the total system mass. It is easy to see that one cannot drop off this much weight each night and fly for very long.

Indoor SP Model Testing

Balloons that maintain a positive internal pressure both day and night (called Super Pressure Balloons) have been flown for very long period of times before. They do not require ballasting to fly for long periods. These types of flights have been done for decades; however they were completed with much smaller balloons, much lighter payloads, and at lower altitudes than the current NASA Science Users desire. To meet the needs for flying for duration at mid-latitudes, with heavy payloads, and at high altitudes required a new balloon design approach.

Some science is best done or can only be done at mid-latitudes. The potential of flying for much longer periods of time offer the scientists much greater data acquisition time or more bang for the buck. This is the background for the need for the Super Pressure Balloon development. The Super Pressure Balloon development is more than just a design process. It has to interrelate the design, materials, manufacturing, flight operations, support systems, safety, and flight control toward a successful approach….a new tool for Science!

NASA Code 820

Scientific Balloon Update

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