Soaring highest above all to reach altitudes up to 120,000 feet, our balloons are breathtaking wonders that push aerospace technology to new heights at extremely lowered costs. The Balloons team has successfully flown over 75 high altitude balloon research payloads since its founding, whether it be traversing the country to descend in Boston and Quebec, or trekking across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. We are aiming to have our record-breaking balloons circumnavigate the globe within the next year.
ValBal, short for "Valve-Ballast,” combines a gas venting valve and a motorized ballast dispenser in 3D-printed mechanics to stabilize altitude. With advanced flight control algorithms based on accumulated wind data, ValBal can fly autonomously at any chosen altitude up to 80,000 ft, offering an inexpensive option for long duration high altitude research. Most recently, ValBal broke the world record for longest flight period by a latex balloon at 121 hrs 32 min, with capabilities to hover over a specified region or travel cross country on swift winds.
The Balloons team launches scientific and experimental payloads into near-space using latex weather balloons. During standard flights, balloons ascend to up to 120,000 feet and travel over 200 miles for a duration of 2-5 hours. A low-cost, alternative vehicle to drones or airplanes, balloons are a great way to collect data and take fantastic photographs at the frontiers of Earth.
In order to achieve controlled recovery of our payloads, our parafoil team, known as Balloonerang, is dedicated to developing a novel system that can steer the payload to a specified GPS coordinate. With the potential to be implemented on every balloon payload flight, Balloonerang aims to combine lightweight mechanical design and parafoil gliding to facilitate ease of payload retrieval.
Along the lines of more traditional chemistry and materials science research, our Latex team investigates new methods to increase the longevity of our balloons. With access to top notch facilities and powerful equipment, the Latex group can characterize balloon properties in-depth, simulate atmospheric conditions, and synthesize UV and ozone resistant coatings to inhibit natural latex photodegradation.
To facilitate the development of scientific research payloads, the Balloons team is developing a standardized modular payload system. The avionics component, known as HABEES (High Altitude Balloon Electrical Engineering Systems), provides for general system functioning while supporting additional circuit boards. The mechanical assembly is designed to support a wide range of payload types, including external sensors and professional cameras.
To track and direct payloads like ValBal, we use a website called HABMC (High Altitude Balloons Mission Control), created by a member of the balloons team. By efficiently parsing and displaying incoming data from our satellite communication module onboard the payload, HABMC enables us to remotely send commands. It also features balloon path prediction based on current wind and weather patterns at various altitudes.
The SSI Balloons team hosts workshops and onboarding projects that allow new members to gain valuable hands-on experience with mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, materials research, and more. If you’re a research group, company, or simply curious to learn more and even fly an idea on our balloon, reach out to our Team Leads today!