Electric Lift Augmentation of Scientific Balloons Using Gossamer Blades

  • Nicholas Kenny (CU Boulder)
  • Dale Lawrence (University of Colorado)


Currently, the HYFLITS campaign collects turbulence and particulate measurements between approximately 20 and 34 km using 1500-3000 g latex balloons. The balloons employ a venting system which allows controlled descents through the measurement altitudes. This descent period is critical, as turbulence data cannot be taken on ascent due to the wake of the balloon itself. Particulate measurements may also be corrupted by small particles shedding off the balloon. A control system which would allow for multiple altitude profiles would greatly increase the amount of usable data from each flight by increasing the number of descents through the measurement region.

While this venting technique enables a single descent, it cannot be used to perform multiple altitude profiles. Unlike large scientific balloons, there has historically been a lack of control solutions for small, inexpensive, long duration balloons operating at high altitudes. Electric lift augmentation, which uses centripetal forces to spin up gossamer propeller blades, aims to address this by creating a small amount of lift with or against natural buoyancy.

Numerous tests of this lift augmentation concept have been conducted to help determine the feasibility of the system. Results from the latest tests demonstrating blade angle stability are presented. In addition to physical testing, an analytical model utilizing blade element theory addresses conceptual questions relating to the scalability of an electric lift augmentation system on a balloon. Power consumption on the order of 5-10 W appears achievable for ascent/descent rates of 1-2 m/s. This would enable indefinite operation with high performance commercial solar panels and batteries sized only for overnight operation. With more than just profiling applications, the lift augmentation device would enable altitude targeting, rudimentary station keeping, and long duration controlled flights in the atmospheres of other planets.

Keywords: balloon control, gossamer, scalability, mission applications

How to Cite:

Kenny, N. & Lawrence, D., (2023) “Electric Lift Augmentation of Scientific Balloons Using Gossamer Blades”, Academic High Altitude Conference 2022(1). doi:



Published on
01 Mar 2023
Peer Reviewed