High hopes as NASA launches super-pressure balloon in New Zealand (dpa German Press Agency)

Wellington (dpa) – US space agency NASA Friday launched a 2.3-ton scientific balloon from New Zealand’s South Island, in a new test for its “game-changer” pressurized design.

NASA hopes the balloon will break the previous flight duration record of 54 days and show that newly developed super-pressure balloons (SPB) can maintain a steady altitude at 33 kilometres above the earth for up to 100 days, the chief of NASA’s balloon programme Debbie Fairbrother said.

The balloon, some 15 years in development, is unlike standard NASA balloons which are vented to the atmosphere and rise and fall with the warming and cooling of the day and night.

NASA has spent 15 years developing the technology for the SPB, a pumpkin-shaped structure that the organization says is large enough to contain a football stadium once it is fully inflated.

Fairbrother says scientific balloons give researchers inexpensive access to the near-space environment for testing instruments for future use on spacecraft.

The balloon, which was launched from Wanaka airport in New Zealand’s South Island, is expected to drift eastward, circumnavigating the globe once every one to three weeks depending on wind speeds, before landing in South America.

NASA says the balloon may be visible from the ground particularly at sunrise and sunset to those who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid latitudes such as Argentina and South Africa.