WindBorne Weather Balloon Reaches New Heights in Atmospheric Measurement Capability
Kristina Kiest
/ Categories: WPO News

WindBorne Weather Balloon Reaches New Heights in Atmospheric Measurement Capability

The Observations Program at the Weather Program Office has partnered with WindBorne Systems, Inc. to fund the development of an advanced weather balloon. This technology offers a low cost platform enabling collection of surface to stratosphere weather data in lesser-sampled regions.

Long-Range Sampling and Dynamic Altitude Control

With an average flight time of 7 days and a maximum flight time of 16, the balloons are capable of flying significantly longer than traditional radiosondes. Their dynamic altitude control further allows them to be directed in real-time to change altitude for vertical profiling of the atmosphere. This capability allows sampling of high-impact regions for forecasts, such as the planetary boundary layer, as well as high altitude sampling about the tropopause. A balloon can be launched by a single operator in 30 minutes, even in high wind conditions (up to 15 knots). Since the launch equipment is compact and portable, new launch sites can be set up quickly. Launch operations and equipment are compliant with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations.

Windborne Weather Balloon in Flight

Atmospheric Rivers Data Collection Campaign 

To test this technology for operational use, an observation campaign was conducted over the northern Pacific Ocean to collect data on the formation of atmospheric rivers. Sixty-five WindBorne balloons were launched throughout the course of the trial from two launch sites established in Seoul, South Korea and in Maui, Hawai’i. WindBorne collected data from February 15th, 2022 to March 21st, for a total of 282 days of flight time, more than 11,500 vertical kilometers of profiles, and more than 675,000 kilometers of ground track. Shown below is the 3-D profile* of the balloons in flight over their path.  On March 12th, the balloon W-273 completed a global circumnavigation flight, having been launched 16 days earlier on February 24th. The balloon successfully maneuvered to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace, and overflew such topographical features as the Alps and Himalayas.

WindBorne 3-D Profile Representation of Balloon Tracks

Balloon W-273 Atmospheric Profiles Balloon W-273 Global Circumnavigation Track

Long-Range Endurance Allows Detailed Profiling in High-Impact Regions

NOAA NWS Weather Forecast Offices use radiosondes to collect profiles of temperature, pressure, and relative humidity to assist in everyday weather forecasts. This promising balloon technology by WindBorne Systems would provide NOAA with real time in-situ observations of radiosonde quality, but with global reach (long duration flights capable of collecting more than 40 vertical profiles of data per balloon compared to a single ascent or descent of a radiosonde or dropsonde). WindBorne is able to provide NOAA with in-situ observations in regions that are either currently poorly observed (for example, over oceans) or in regions of high forecast sensitivity (for example, cyclogenesis regions of severe storms). The advantages of this technology include making multiple ascents and descents in a single launch to profile the atmosphere. The balloons are cost effective and both long-range and high-altitude. Because of their endurance and increased coverage, the balloons are a significant addition to existing distributed sampling techniques, which are traditionally only capable of taking a single profile, and have a short lifespan. 

WindBorne’s advanced weather balloon is anticipated to provide a more robust time-series of profiling data that is on par with other current technologies, but is low-cost, long-range, and controllable in real-time to target high-impact regions over larger areas. Currently, the technology is in the Demonstration phase of the NOAA Readiness Levels (at RL 7) with anticipation of an achievement to Readiness Level 8 at the conclusion of the project anticipated in March 2023. This means the promising WindBorne technology may soon be on its way to operational use for stakeholders across the weather enterprise. 

*3-D Profiles visually amplified for clarity 

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