Air Force Space Command’s Space Innovation Development Center is moving to phase III of a $900,000 program designed to launch a balloon to the edge of space with an attached glider that will return the balloon. The Talon Topper is designed to be low-cost but reusable. Balloons can already be returned to the ground, of course, but the glider would deliver the balloon right where you want it.
The Air Force is turning to balloons for high altitude surveillance in an area – between 65,000 and 100,000 feet – that is generally unused because the air is too thin for most aircraft and too low for satellites. A separate program called Combat SkySat has already demonstrated the ability to dramatically extend the range of line-of-sight radio communications by several hundred miles. Combat SkySat is basically a weather balloon tied to a radio repeater and launched into near space between 65,000 and 95,000 feet.
Near Space Corporation just received a sole-source contract to refine the Talon Topper demonstration system to improve a graphical user interface with the ground control station, as well as integrate and test a mission planning and flight monitoring system known as Talon SHU. At the end of the contract, the company will plan and execute an operational demonstration of the entire system.
--Catherine MacRae Hockmuth