NASA high altitude science balloon sets new endurance record

GUSTO's flight path
Click for continuous tracking of GUSTO’s flight path

NASA’s GUSTO high altitude science balloon has now set a new endurance record for the most days of flight of a NASA balloon, flying more than 57 days over the continent of Antarctica at the south pole.

The map to the right shows GUSTO’s entire journey. The blue line was its first phrase of travel, the green its second phase, and the red its present stage.

GUSTO was launched at 1:30 a.m. EST Dec. 31 from the Long Duration Balloon Camp near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The balloon mission not only broke the flight record but continues its path circumnavigating the South Pole. The stadium-sized zero-pressure scientific balloon and observatory are currently reaching altitudes above 125,000 feet. “The health of the balloon and the stratospheric winds are both contributing to the success of the mission so far,” said Hamilton. “The balloon and balloon systems have been performing beautifully, and we’re seeing no degradation in the performance of the balloon. The winds in the stratosphere have been very favorable and have provided stable conditions for extended flight.”

The previous NASA record was a balloon that it flew in 2012. GUSTO itself is being used to map the Milky Way’s carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen that is found between the stars in gas clouds.

Astronomical high-altitude balloon flight now exceeds two weeks

GUSTO's flight path as of January 18, 2024

A high-altitude stratospheric balloon, dubbed GUSTO and designed to study the interstellar medium, has now been circling the south pole over Antarctica for fifteen days.

The map to the right shows its full flight path since its launch on December 31, 2023. From the press release:

GUSTO is mapping a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy and Large Magellanic Cloud to help scientists study the interstellar medium. The observatory is transmitting the data it collects back to watchful teams on the ground as it steadily circumnavigates the South Pole around 120,000+ feet.

GUSTO is flying on a 39 million cubic-foot zero-pressure scientific balloon, which is so large it could easily fit 195 blimps inside of it. The balloon is used to fly missions for long periods of time during the Austral Summer over Antarctica. GUSTO is aiming for a NASA record of 55+ days in flight to achieve its science goals.

You can follow GUSTO’s flight in real time here.