By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A strange object in the sky that caught the attention of many Laramie residents and visitors over the last few days is not a vehicle carrying aliens, but a high-altitude balloon sent out by a space travel company.
Ballooning specialist Phil Bergmaier, of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the balloon has been in the sky over Laramie for more than 100 consecutive hours.
“I’m guessing it’s been seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of folks in town by this point,” Bergmaier said. “The balloon has been hovering over the Laramie area since at least Friday morning and it’s still up there [Tuesday].”
Bergmaier said the WSGC does not hear about unidentified flying objects such as the balloon much, if ever, but he also said giant balloons do not make their way to the area very often, either.
The balloon is owned by World View Enterprises, a “space tourism” company that is advertising plans to send people into the stratosphere on a balloon flight as soon as 2024.
The company did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.
The high-altitude space balloon is called a zero-pressure balloon that is made of very thin plastic material that is designed not to pop like a latex balloon would, Bergmaier said. The balloon is filled with helium and is designed with the necessary buoyancy to reach high into the atmosphere.
“Supposedly, when fully inflated, this balloon is so large that it would fill an entire sports stadium,” Bergmaier said. “Zero-pressure balloon flights like this have more ambitious applications than regular latex balloons. They can carry much heavier payloads, so they’re often used to fly bigger scientific equipment, larger camera systems, bigger communications devices or even perhaps people one day.”
High-altitude balloons are used for collecting data because they can withstand harsh elements, such air pressures, extremely low temperatures and harmful cosmic rays.
A high-altitude balloon such as the one seen over Laramie can be used to hover at a constant altitude and drift along for extended periods of time. In the case of the Laramie balloon, this will be a 30-day period.
Since the balloon appeared over Laramie, it has been hovering at altitudes of about 55,000 to 65,000 feet above sea level.
“It has more or less been slowly drifting back and forth over the Laramie Valley, sometimes doing big circles or loop-de-loops,” Bergmaier said. “From my understanding, the company is actually able to control where it goes to some extent by lowering or raising the balloon to different altitudes to find the desired wind directions.”
The flight vehicle, which is hanging from the bottom of the balloon, is called a Stratollite. Bergmaier said it is a 1,000-pound capsule that holds equipment and electronics such as cameras, GPS tracking and flight communication equipment.
The balloon’s flight path can be tracked here.