Linde Gases, a division of The Linde Group, has announced its agreement to provide helium gas to NASA for a series of four unmanned, high altitude balloon launches.

Operated by NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), the purpose of the launches is to collect and study scientific data about the solar magnetic field and associated cosmic ray activity, which can expose astronauts and even airline flight crew to the threat of radiation.

The giant balloons, filled with between 4,000 and 8,000 cubic metres of helium gas, rise to heights of up to 43 kilometres above the earth’s surface and can reach flying speeds of more than 40 knots.

When fully inflated, the largest balloons can be up to 1.2 million cubic metres in size. Their payloads, including vast telescopes, can weigh up to 6 tons.

The first three missions, named LEE, Aesop and Sunrise, were launched successfully in May and June from the Esrange Space Centre in northern Sweden, above the Arctic Circle. The final mission, a test flight of a ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon), planned for later this summer, will also be conducted from Esrange.

In addition to Linde supplying the helium needed to inflate the giant balloons, the company demonstrated its technology expertise by providing the tube trailers and associated equipment for the process of filling of the balloons, which Linde specially adapted to meet NASA’s precise requirements.

Through the installation of a liquid helium tank and mobile compressor system onsite, Linde was able to refill the trailers, thereby meeting both the challenging gas volume demands and turnaround times in the field.

“This is a prestigious contract for Linde,” said Matthias Bohn, Market Development Manager at Linde.

“NASA is recognised for employing the most sophisticated, innovative technologies and we were able to demonstrate, through our balloon inflation expertise and gases-related technology, that Linde is not just a commodity gases supplier but a provider of customised, state-of-the-art gases solutions”.

Erich Klein, Campaign Manager at NASA commented, “Linde provided excellent helium support for this campaign and we have already started to reap the benefits. We successfully launched our first balloon and everything went perfectly with the helium supply. It would not have been possible without their support.”