Guys Fly Balloon to 30 km Altitude – See it in Google Earth

High altitude balloon to edge of space seen in Google EarthApparently, flying high altitude balloons is an emerging hobby. A guy named Alexei Karpenko (and a team of others) managed to fly a helium balloon in Canada to 30 km above the Earth (you can see the sky is black and the curve of the Earth in the photos). You can read a full description of his project including lots of photos, video clips, diagrams of the equipment and more at his lengthy web page. He used GPS technology and cameras to track the balloon’s flight and document the flight. But, the most important thing is that he created a couple of Google Earth files so you can see the path of the balloon as it ascended and descended. You have your choice of the flight with photos , or the flight with embedded videos . You really get a sense of how big the Earth is and how close the balloon got to space when you realize 30 km is high enough to get these pictures. If you watch the videos, you can see that the balloon is still getting blown around by the atmosphere at that altitude. (A balloon can only go so high before it’s lighter than air characteristics don’t work.) The edge of space (where the atmosphere ends and space begins) is typically described as 100 km for the Earth.
It would be really neat if he considered using the KML 2.2 PhotoOverlay feature to actually position each photo in the same orientation as the photo was taken. He does include a folder called “Timeline” you can turn on which includes a timestamped position indicator of the balloon trip so you can get a sense of the direction of the flight using the GE time-slider.
By the way, if you read his web site, they used the GPS technology to track the balloon and follow it in “chase cars” so they could find it when it landed. Apparently they design it so the balloon is burst to accelerate its descent (so it doesn’t go too far away) and use a parachute to slow its final descent. On this flight it didn’t properly deploy, but their payload was designed well and the equipment survived undamaged.
via – Thanks for the tip Daniel!

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. I’d like to emphasize as well that they’re actually integrating Google Earth using GooPS — in what is essentually a basic telemetry system. The portion that describes this is the following:
    “The ground software consisted of a C# program running on a Laptop with Windows XP. It communicated with a cellphone via bluetooth to send and receive SMS to/from the payload. It also communicated with the ground 900Mhz modem. The retrieved position was shown on Google Earth via a program called GooPS. The ground software also connected to a bluetooth GPS receiver and forwarded the position to Google Earth via GooPS. That enabled to see positions of both the payload and the car in Google Earth. As a bonus, the software was also able to forward positions via WiFi to other chase cars so that they could follow the action.”

  2. That is awesome. I’ve often wanted to attach a camera to a kite or to a rocket, but this just blows that out of the water. From the apex, you could potentially see all the way to Boston, NY, DC, to the East, Chicago and St. Louis to the West, and possibly to the Hudson Bay to the North.

  3. Barry Chapman says:

    I am interested in constructing a hydrogen balloon
    along with a hydrogen generator. This should be a lot cheaper and efficient than a helium balloon.
    I am proposing to use a photographic strobe light for tracking and acting as warning signal for aircraft.
    I have experimented with pierced-nozzle helium balloons and have found this to be interesting.
    I live in Orillia, Ontario. If you drop me a note I would appreciate it. BC

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