Stratospheric balloons are a low-cost way to get above 99% of the atmosphere. Payloads lifted that high have wide views of Earth and clear views of the stars. For decades, NASA has launched a handful of stratospheric balloons every year. Although they float for months, they drift at constant altitudes. Now, upstart commercial companies like World View are launching smaller balloons that can remain in place by surfing stratospheric winds.
Agents in Texas recently finished a 30-day trial of the camera-toting, helium-filled balloon made by Drone Aviation Holding Corp., a small startup that named former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar to its board of directors in January. The 3-year-old, money-losing company gave Aguilar stock options that may prove lucrative if it gets more orders for its proprietary model. The trial comes as agents test hand-launched drones, which are relatively inexpensive but hampered by short battery life and weight limits. The Border Patrol has also used six large tethered balloons in Texas since 2012, acquired from the Defense Department. President Trump has pledged to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, but hiring has been slow.
It's much easier to shoot for the moon when it's on the ground, rolling toward you. A giant moon-shaped balloon, caught in the winds of Typhoon Meranti blew through the streets of Fuzhou, China, this morning. The balloon was initially a part of a display installed outside of a shopping mall to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Thursday, reports Buzzfeed. Huge moon balloon blown away in Fuzhou, E China, as #TyphoonMeranti approaches. This balloon was spotted rolling over cars and people as it was lifted throughout the town.
Efficiently navigating a superpressure balloon in the stratosphere1 requires the integration of a multitude of cues, such as wind speed and solar elevation, and the process is complicated by forecast errors and sparse wind measurements. Coupled with the need to make decisions in real time, these factors rule out the use of conventional control techniques2,3. Here we describe the use of reinforcement learning4,5 to create a high-performing flight controller. Our algorithm uses data augmentation6,7 and a self-correcting design to overcome the key technical challenge of reinforcement learning from imperfect data, which has proved to be a major obstacle to its application to physical systems8. We deployed our controller to station Loon superpressure balloons at multiple locations across the globe, including a 39-day controlled experiment over the Pacific Ocean.
Nothing draws attention to your new product like using it to send fast food into space. In June, Arizona-based World View demonstrated the potential of its pioneering stratollite--a sort of mini satellite that uses a high-altitude balloon to take payloads into the stratosphere--by partnering with KFC to ferry a 5-ounce piece of fried fowl 77,000 feet into the desert sky. "We took a frail chicken sandwich, launched it into space for 17 hours, and when it came back, it was perfect," says World View CEO Jane Poynter.