What is a balloon?
Stratospheric balloons were first used as research tools for the scientific study of the atmosphere and astronomy. The era of space conquest provided an opportunity for rethinking the use of these balloons for purposes beyond scientific research. Balloons are now used for such things as testing new technology applications before being placed on satellites for long-duration space missions.
Modern-day balloons – typically made out of ultra-thin plastic filled with helium – can stretch into a gigantic upside-down "teardrop" shape more than half as tall as the CN Tower, or about the height of the Eiffel Tower.
Equipped with several gondolas suspended on the flight chain, these remotely controlled atmospheric balloons can carry science, astronomy, atmospheric chemistry, weather forecasting and technological demonstration payloads weighing up to 1.1 tonnes.
These balloons require no engine and no fuel and are fully recoverable after a flight. They can reach altitudes of up to 42 km, holding their instrument packages aloft for up to 10 hours. Long-duration flights, lasting days, weeks and even months, are under consideration for the near future.
(Credit: Canadian Space Agency)
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