Demonstrating early capabilities for remote sensing applications from the stratosphere, World View Enterprise and the US-based spacecraft manufacturer Ball Aerospace completed a Stratollite mission earlier this month. The mission completed nearly 70,000 feet above Earth.
World View has developed Stratollites, a new category of above-earth vehicles that are high-tech balloons offering long-duration, persistent flight above specific geographical areas of interest.
Stratollites, as the name suggests, operate in the stratosphere and can maintain station and directionally navigate. They utilize a proprietary method of altitude control to channel directional wind patterns at various altitudes.
The mission carried a Ball Aerospace sensor and collected data on the Stratollite’s flight characteristics and on sensor performance in this environment. For example, imagery captured in-flight by the Ball sensor shows approximately five-meter resolution panchromatic imagery from a station-keeping position approximately 76,900 feet above Arizona.
The results offer a glimpse into the utility of the platform for a wide variety of persistent remote sensing applications.
“This pathfinder mission demonstrates proof of concept for the Stratollite’s capability as a high-altitude imaging platform for a variety of Ball sensors,” said Debra Facktor Lepore, Ball Aerospace’s vice president and general manager, commercial aerospace business unit.
Stratollites, carrying context cameras and high-resolution sensors, will ultimately enable rapid insights into customer-specified areas of interest.
With the use of green, regenerative fuel sources that indefinitely power the Stratollite’s directional control systems – in this case, a large solar array – the Stratollite will offer months of uninterrupted persistence for imaging and real-time data collection, which would be prohibitive for fuel-dependent aircraft or orbiting satellites.
They can be retrieved easily and quickly by the mission team for payload and sensor modifications and rapid re-launch.
“With over 50 flights completed to date, World View is already routinely flying commercial payloads to the edge of space for a wide variety of government, commercial, and research customers,” said Jane Poynter, CEO of World View.
“Our disruptive Stratollite platform and collaboration with Ball brings together hardware and analysis to enable previously unthinkable applications at a fraction of the cost of existing technology.”
World View and Ball Aerospace plan to build on the success of this flight with subsequent Stratollite missions that will carry higher resolution sensors for longer-duration flights.