To Space via Balloon Written 17 February 2015

by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications (2008–2017)

From 10 April through 27 April, 193 teams from 44 countries will launch high altitude balloons as they take part in the Global Space Balloon Challenge. Each team will be vying to have their balloon soar the highest, take the best pictures of Earth, have the best on-board science experiments, and return safely to Earth from altitude. The contest awards prizes in several categories including Highest Altitude, Best Design, Best Video, and several others.

Duncan Miller, the project’s Vice President of Community, explained that the Global Space Balloon Challenge was created in 2013 by a fortunate happenstance. “A teammate of ours was moving to Spain and had to miss Stanford’s first high altitude balloon launch. We suggested that he launch a balloon simultaneously while on the other side of the world. We knew some more people around the U.S. and got them involved. It went global after that and the idea of the challenge was born.”

One focus of the Challenge is to “get people excited about space, science and technology,” explained Miller, continuing “it’s an opportunity for people all over the world to launch and work together, and compete against each other at the ‘highest’ level.” Miller went on to explain “The great thing about the Challenge is that it attracts people of all ages, all education levels, and all walks of life – it literally is a space competition for everyone!” In 2014, 50 teams from 18 nations took part in the challenge. Miller said that they have been working hard to gain traction in Africa and East Asia. The lack of launch regulations and air traffic control in Africa, and language barriers in Asia have been necessary hurdles worth overcoming.

Miller explained that teams’ balloons are equipped with a camera to record the flight and to take pictures from the edge of space. Balloons can reach up to “100,000 feet” in altitude with an average flight duration of “about three hours.” Balloons can also take science experiments aloft – the best experiment wins a prize. Once the balloons pop in the upper atmosphere, their packages parachute back to Earth and teams submit their photographs and data to the Challenge for adjudication. The Challenge will award its prizes in early June.

One of the anticipated products of this year’s Challenge is a “composite photo of Earth from near space – a simultaneous snapshot stitched together from teams in over 40 countries.” Balloon teams have even used the event as a fundraiser, according to Miller, as he explained that “last year the MIT team raised over $1,000 for the Massachusetts General Hospital and as a tribute to Boston, we sent the ‘Boston Strong’ motto aloft with our balloon.”

For more information on the Global Balloon Space Challenge, and to check out the images from this year’s competition, visit: