Raven Industry Inc.'s largest super pressure balloon has surpassed 31 days in the stratosphere — and may still be flying as part of its latest NASA mission.
The Raven Aerostar division has been partnering with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the design of stratospheric balloons for more than 20 years. In their latest effort, on March 26, NASA launched a super pressure balloon carrying a two-and-half ton payload from the mid-latitudes in Wanaka, New Zealand. It was still flying April 27 and the test flight continues.
“Raven Aerostar is doing what has never been done before. Putting a balloon in orbit with persistent altitude over a long duration changes everything previously understood about access to space — especially cost per flight hour,” said Lon Stroschein, vice president and general manager of Raven Aerostar, in a news release.
According to Aerostar's website, the super pressure balloons are pressurized day and night and can rise up to 130,000 feet, or 24.6 miles, above sea level. They are built with a special formulation of polyethylene film that can withstand temperatures as cold as -80° Celsius (-112° F).
Aerostar personnel were onsite for the launch, providing support to Orbital ATK, the prime contractor of the NASA balloon program. It lifted to the stratosphere at a rate of 1,000 feet per minute.
The balloon exceeds 18 million cubic feet in volume, which is similar in size to a sports stadium. It is designed to maintain a constant float altitude at 110,000 feet to conserve helium and increase flight endurance.
“This mission is already considered a huge success at NASA,” said Deborah Fairbrother, NASA balloon program office chief, in the news release.
Aerostar said the balloon project requires the highest level of quality standards throughout its manufacturing because it cannot be fully tested prior to its maiden flight.
Raven also is known for its collaboration with Google Inc. on Project Loon, a pilot study started in August 2013, to use balloons as a way to provide internet service to remote areas of New Zealand. The company also makes character balloons for the Macy's Christmas parade.
Raven Industries is based in Sioux Falls, S.D., and is publicly traded on NASDAQ.