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Sun, Dec 05, 2004

Worlds Largest Helium Balloon Completed

Will be used to launch da Vinci Project spacecraft from 70,000 feet

The Golden Space Program, Powered by the da Vinci Project, has completed construction and flight qualification of the “Worlds Largest Reusable Helium Balloon” for its planned manned flights to space. The balloon will carry the project's Wild Fire MK VI manned spacecraft to its launch altitude of 70,000 feet (21,340 meters).

The Balloon was built by the team throughout the late summer and fall of this year. “It’s an incredible achievement" said Brian Feeney, Team Leader. "It follows years of research and development by the team with input from some of the most talented balloon design and fabrication people on the planet”.

“It’s like everything else in this project" added Feeney. "We’ve overcome barrier after barrier driving toward our goal of private manned space flight”. We’re definitely moving toward a first flight as early as feasible in 2005”. The project's goal of putting the first Canadian manned spacecraft into space and only the second private team ever is sound. Getting down to it and engineering, testing and building the largest reusable balloon ever is typical of the day to day tasks face by the team.

The two-ton balloon is made from 4.5 mil custom extruded polyethylene sheets, measures 152.7 feet in diameter and is 200 feet long when fully inflated. The volume is 3,698,167 cubic feet (104,615 cubic meters), with a near-record gross lift capability of 15,270 lbs (6,922 Kgs).

During the summer, the project successfully built and flew a smaller balloon to 40,000 feet, scaled to simulate all the flight stresses. In the lab test, sections of the final balloon were stress tested to 1200 psi, twice the expected maximum stress loads. Balloon section stress tests were carried out over 12 to 24 hour periods, greatly exceeding the actual balloon float time of 2 hours per launch attempt.

“We didn’t stop there," Feeney continued. "As a precursor to building the final balloon, we constructed a second 100,000 cubic foot test balloon. This enabled us to perfect the manufacturing process as well as provide an additional large balloon for field launch testing. We even micrometer tested the thickness of every 400 foot gore, every 12 inches, to be sure the material was within specification”.

Several additional elements are engineered into the balloon design and recovery system to achieve the full reusability needed for multiple flights to space.



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