NASA breaks scientific boundaries… in ballooning.

Nature profiles the amazing new high-atmosphere vehicle for exploring space from Antarctica:

If all continues smoothly, experts expect the flight to last for 100 days or longer. The current record for the longest NASA scientific ballooning flight is 55 days, using a traditional balloon. The record for a super-pressure balloon is just a day shorter, at 54 days.

More time aloft equals more science. The new super-pressure balloon is carrying a ?-ray telescope to hunt for high-energy photons streaming from the cosmos. Known as the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), it can detect where in the sky these ? rays are coming from, and thus begin to unravel various astronomical mysteries.

COSI is the first science payload designed from scratch to take advantage of NASA’s super-pressure technology, says team leader Steven Boggs, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley. Its predecessors used liquid nitrogen to cool themselves, meaning that the nitrogen ran out in less than 10 days. COSI carries a mechanical cooler that contains nothing to run out of.

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