Balloon Bonanza at Esrange: Record Breaking Launches in Northern Sweden

In close collaboration with strategic partners like NASA and CNES, Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) is launching a record amount of eight stratospheric balloons this summer. The largest one measures three times the size of the Globe (Avicii Arena) in Stockholm and will fly high above the Atlantic to a safe landing in Canada.

These are hectic times at the Esrange Space Center outside Kiruna in northern Sweden. A total of eight stratospheric balloons – five transatlantic, two stationary and one student balloon – will be launched from Esrange within a matter of weeks. A record in both numbers and volumes, with several of them being stadium sized.

“SSC is proud to offer this top-of-the-line service for launching stratospheric balloons from the Esrange. Years of strategic collaboration with, among others, renowned partners such as NASA and CNES, grants us with vast experience and expertise, and puts SSC at the very top of international ballooning. Never before has this many balloons been launched in such a short time frame. And never have they been this large,” says Charlotta Sund, CEO of SSC.

The larger, transatlantic balloons will fly from Sweden and land in Canada after up to a week in the air. The research conducted on these balloons include cosmic ray, X-ray astronomy, and solar observations – providing fundamental research such as the origin of the Universe.

The strategic location is key to NASA and CNES

It is no coincidence that balloon operations thrive in the northernmost part of Sweden. Situated north of the Arctic Circle, the sparsely populated area is unique in many ways. The launch area is strategically positioned in terms of stratospheric winds and with access to the midnight sun during spring and summer. Under constant sunlight, the changes in pressure inside the balloons can be kept to a minimum. Additionally, flying balloons from Esrange in a westerly direction provides a unique opportunity to safely launch and fly long-duration missions for several days in the northern hemisphere.

“Every launch we do is unique and exciting, and we’re thrilled to have our first successful launch for the season now that the wind patterns are aligned to meet our mission needs. This long-duration capability is crucial to our science missions, as they gather a great amount of data over the course of one flight”, says Andrew Hamilton, Acting Director of NASA’s Balloon Program Office.

“For several decades, CNES has been carrying out many stratospheric balloon flights from the Esrange base for French and European laboratories. The coming campaign includes our first transatlantic flight between Sweden and north Canada. After 2 years of technical work, we are now ready for this new challenge,” says Stéphane Louvel, Balloon campaign manager at CNES.

NASA balloon missions

HELIX: A powerful superconducting magnet will measure the flux of high-energy cosmic ray isotopes. This will help determine the age of cosmic rays in our galaxy. Launched on the 28th of May, the 3,402 kg payload flies on a 970,000 m3 balloon at 36 km altitude.

BOOMS: A high-resolution imager of X-rays from energetic electron microbursts that appear in the polar atmosphere. The 748 kg payload will fly on a 1,7 million m3 balloon at 47 km altitude – the largest balloon ever at Esrange.

SUNRISE-III: A solar observatory that takes high-resolution images and spectro-polarimetry of layers of the Sun, and on active regions of the Sun to measure magnetic field, temperature, and velocities. The 3,515 kg payload will fly on a 970,000 m3 balloon at 36 km altitude.

XL-Calibur: A telescope that will observe a sample of galactic black hole and neutron star sources to gain new insights on how these objects accelerate electrons and emit X-rays. The 2,722 kg payload will fly on a 1,12 million m3 balloon at 38 km altitude.

Read more about NASA’s summer balloons >>

CNES balloon missions

TRANSAT: A balloon mission consisting of a total of nine different scientific experiments, focusing on concentration of greenhouse gases. The 890 kg payload will fly on a 800,000 m3 balloon at 40 km altitude.

ATMOSFER: A balloon mission consisting of a total of four different scientific experiments, focusing on atmospheric chemistry and aerosol measurements. The 553 kg payload will fly on a 150,000 m3 balloon at 33 km altitude.

SAPHERALLER: A balloon mission consisting of a total of twelve different scientific experiments, focusing on composition of clouds. The 250 kg payload will fly on a 100,000 m3 balloon especially at 18 km altitude.

Read more about CNES’ summer balloons >>

Student balloon mission

EXPLORA: Launched on the 27th of May, this is by far the smallest out of the eight balloons. The payload will study climate change by conducting measurements in the atmosphere. Behind this campaign are the Space High School in Kiruna, and Lycée de l’Espace from Toulouse, France.