Enormous helium balloons gather images from near-space

Space Science

MYSTERY WIRE — Google Earth is fascinating to explore whether you’re looking at your house, or just jumping around for bird’s eye views of your favorite places.

But it gets better.

Companies that use “Stratollites” — a trademarked name for stratospheric satellites — are getting into the game of high-resolution images from the edge of space.

Whether these images will ever reach a consumer product like Google Earth remains to be seen, but the resolution will be far better — 15 centimeters right now, and 5 centimeters very soon. That’s good enough to tell if a person on the ground is “holding a shovel or a gun.”

That’s according to Ryan Hartman of World View Enterprises, who spoke to Wired.com recently in:

Giant surveillance balloons are lurking at the edge of space

World View and another company, Near Space Labs, see an opportunity to sell atmosperic data and better imagery. Satellite images aren’t updated often, but these new companies could produce images more frequently — for a price.

For a detailed look at the World View balloons, read the Wired.com article. The company started with the vision of taking passengers into the stratosphere, but has retooled and gone into the data business.

Some interesting facts:

  • One balloon uses as much helium as a million party balloons.
  • A Stratollite grows to the size of a football field as it ascends.
  • The most recent World View launch was Dec. 16, sending a 1,000 pound balloon up for a planned six-week mission.

You can track the progress of the mission at wvflight.space.

A look at World View’s balloons and its past projects, including Biosphere 2:

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