Indiana-based startup Rockzip recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring affordable, floating space probes to the masses. Known as high-altitude balloons, or high balloons, the company says its products will make the upper reaches of the atmosphere more accessible to researchers, entrepreneurs and budding scientists.
Conventional high balloons are expensive, said Austyn Crites, co-founder and president of Rockzip. Made of a thin plastic skin and filled with helium or hydrogen, the balloons are handmade and sell for around $1,500, he said. But by using cheaper materials and streamlining production, Rockzip could start selling its high-altitude balloons for half that price, Crites said.
“We’re making these balloons affordable to the masses,” Crites told Live Science. “We want to be the Henry Ford of the high balloon industry.”
The company’s Kickstarter campaign says that using a high balloon is simple. First, you build your payload. The company’s flagship product, the “full-size beta high balloon,” can carry about 6 lbs. (2.7 kilograms). Its smaller product, the “pro high balloon,” can carry about 1 lb. (0.45 kilograms).
Once a GPS tracker, camera, sensors or other equipment is attached, the balloon is filled with helium and can then float high up into the atmosphere. The full-size beta balloon can reach altitudes of up to 65,000 feet (19,800 m) — more than twice the normal flying altitude of a commercial airplane — and can float for around 12 hours. The pro version travels to about 30,000 feet (9,140 m), and can stay airborne for about 5 hours. The edge of space is commonly defined as 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth’s surface, or more than 327,000 feet (99,700 m) up.
Crites said the company hopes to increase the amount of time its balloons can spend in the air, and eventually build a balloon that can stay afloat for weeks. For now, however, you’ll have to go retrieve your balloon and relaunch it right away if you want to explore the upper atmosphere for longer stretches of time.
Rockzip’s Kickstarter campaign has so far raised nearly $6,000 of its $15,000 goal, with eight days remaining in the campaign.
Balloon News is backing the campaign. While we haven’t tested the balloons, the concept is great and we thoroughly back it back it as it could open up a whole new field in affordable super pressure ballooning.