MIT to Launch a House-Sized Balloon for the Global Space Balloon Challenge

Look out, Nantucket.

This Saturday, MIT grad students will compete in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, where over 250 teams in more than 40 countries will send latex, helium-filled, high-altitude balloons to the edge of the atmosphere, 100,000 feet in the air where temperatures drop to -150 degrees.

These balloons aren’t from your average party pack, though. When inflated at the launch site out in Cheshire, Mass., they’ll be about the size of a car. Because they’ve been filled with helium, the balloons will continue to grow as they ascend, reaching the size of a small house—becoming the biggest balloon the MIT space balloon team has ever launched.

“If everything goes right, we’ll be able to recover our balloon and some footage,” says Duncan Miller, a member of the space balloon team and graduate student at MIT. He says the group’s balloon is dedicated to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, flying high to raise support and awareness for the institution and its patients.

When the balloons reach the edge of the atmosphere, they’ll burst before floating back to earth. Teams will compete for highest altitude, best design, and best in-air photography—and hopefully MIT’s will steer clear of Nantucket.

Luckily, the MIT space balloon team was put through a rigorous vetting process before it can be shipped off into the atmosphere. They needed to predict a flight path, taking weather conditions and wind into consideration, and equip the balloon with a GPS tracker so they could follow its path and chase it down while it descends.

“We’ll have a pretty good idea of where its going and where we expect it to land,” says Duncan. “The great thing about our balloon is that it’s fully recoverable. The balloon, the package, and the parachute all stay together so we’ll be able to recover it.”

Rest assured, Nantucket, no left-over latex will be floating your way.