Stratospheric balloons to help wildland firefighters

Aerostar is working on technology to help fight wildfires

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Aerostar, an aerospace engineering company in Sioux Falls, is working on technology to help wildland firefighters on the front lines of wildfires.

Raven Stratospheric Balloon: credit NWS Rapid CityThe stratospheric balloons, almost 100 feet across, sit at 50,000 to 80,000 feet above the surface.

The light winds in the stratosphere allow the balloons to remain nearly stationary. Using multiple weather models, people at Aerostar are able to forecast the best vertical position for the balloon to get it over the area that it’s needed.

They have a vertical range of 20,000 feet and are able to ascend and descend using an air pump. The air pump sucks air into a separate compartment inside the balloon, weighing it down.

When the balloon wants to ascend, the air pump sucks air out. The balloons are capable of carrying up to 125 pounds.

The payload includes cameras and infrared sensors that make it possible to map out a fire in real-time. This provides incident commanders to figure out the best way to attack a fire, without putting pilots in danger of encountering dangerous thermals.

In the future, Aerostar plans to add technology the will provide wildland firefighters with cell service and radio signal boosters to help with communication.

“We’re excited about taking this technology and using it in these humanitarian, public safety and disaster relief type areas.” says Director of Engineering at Aerostar Russ Van Der Werff.

Categories: Weather Daily, Wildland Fire