Arizona-based high-altitude balloon startup World View has a new partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help the latter collect data to help it deepen its study of the Earth’s stratosphere, the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that spans between 4.3 and 12 miles above the surface, depending on where you are in the world.
NOAA will be sending up miniaturized instrument hardware that can measure atmospheric particles, or aerosols, in the stratosphere. Studying these can help scientists better understand how the atmospheric layer and the ozone that it contains, and human impact on both, can affect the transmission of ultraviolet radiation and what kind of chemical interactions are incurring that could present a risk to humans on the surface.
World View’s “Stratollites” balloons will be able to host these instruments at altitudes higher than 55,000 feet (over 10 miles) above the Earth, for trips that can span multiple weeks at a time. Traditional NOAA research has relied on sensors carried by weather balloons, and aircraft, which can’t make those kinds of long-duration data-gathering excursions; or on satellites, which operate at a completely different altitude and can’t provide the same quality of data as an instrument actually located within the stratosphere itself.
To get a sense of what kind of difference NOAA could realize from using World View’s stratollites, consider that the administration says that while current weather balloon flights provide around 11 days’ worth of data from a full year of flights, just a single flight of World View’s vehicle could provide 40 days’ worth of data.
The first World View and NOAA flights should take place sometime next year, and the data gathered from the excursions will be made available to the public for general research use after a period of six months, as is standard for the agency.