The materials used to construct high-altitude research gondolas must be light, able to handle extreme cold and preferably have excellent fire, smoke and toxicity (FST) properties. The Space Concordia team recently constructed a gondola to be attached to a high-altitude balloon. High-altitude balloons are used to send payloads up to extremely high altitudes and usually function as weather balloons. They can also be used for experiments in very low pressure and temperature environments at stratospheric altitudes. The gondola will serve as a platform for any scientific payload and can be used by students from other universities.
The gondola is a reusable vessel made out of simple parts, some of which are 3D-printed to drastically reduce weight and cost without compromising durability. A modular design means its volume can be expanded to allow for more scientific payloads to be included. Some payloads, such as optical instruments or biological payloads, require directional control of the gondola, i.e. the ability to change the gondola’s orientation to a specific inertial or relative reference. The high-altitude balloon gondola therefore includes a reaction wheel, allowing constant directional control of the payload up to an altitude of 100,000 ft, or 30,000 m.
To insulate the gondola, it was important to pick a material with very low density, as weight had to be reduced in order to use the smallest amount of helium possible. The team also wanted to achieve superior thermal insulation properties to make sure the electronics would stay within their operational temperature range.