An 18.8 million-cubic-foot super-pressure balloon flown remotely by NASA has successfully completed a midlatitude circumnavigation of the Earth, NASA said today. The balloon, carrying a Compton spectrometer and imager payload, achieved the milestone 14 days, 13 hours, and 17 minutes after launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on Tuesday, May 17. At the moment the balloon crossed the meridian, it was flying at an altitude of 110,170 feet and heading northeast at 53.85 knots. The route was flown well south of the Equator, so the total distance flown was less than the actual circumference of the Earth.
The science team for the flight continues to collect and transmit data to the University of California, Berkeley. On May 30, the science team had a significant breakthrough, NASA said, in detecting and localizing their first gamma ray burst. The balloon’s gamma ray telescope observed the burst for nearly 10 seconds. The team plans to continue flying the balloon as long as possible, and it should complete a full circumnavigation every one to three weeks, depending on the wind speeds. The current record for a NASA super-pressure balloon flight is 54 days, and NASA says it hopes to eventually fly the technology for more than 100 days. The real-time location of the super-pressure balloon can be tracked online.