Colorado-based Urban Sky’s new Microballoon was designed to take high-resolution aerial photos at low cost. Each reusable Microballoon unit consists of a small reusable stratospheric balloon and a payload module that includes a high-res optical camera.
While still on the ground, the 8.2-foot balloon is partially filled with helium gas, which expands in volume as the balloon rises from its mobile launching point. Once it reaches the desired altitude—typically somewhere over 60,000 feet—the helium has expanded to the extent that it fills the now 18-foot balloon. From that point onward, any excess gas simply escapes out of strategically placed vents in the bottom of the balloon. In this fashion, the gas volume is maintained, so the balloon remains at the desired altitude to take photos.
When the photography is complete, a ground-based crew remotely activates the payload module to release itself from the bottom of the balloon, although it is still attached by a line. A parachute is deployed at a lower altitude, slowing the descent of the payload module and the attached balloon. Both are retrieved for reuse once they’ve landed on the ground.