How High Can Weather Balloons Go?

by | Jun 15, 2017 | Weather Balloons

How cool would it be to watch a high-altitude weather balloon soar high up into the air with your classroom? The students would love designing their own experiment and watch as their work soared higher and higher. But, before you jump into this great project-based learning opportunity, you probably have a few questions. If nothing else, you’re curious about weather balloons. One of the questions our team gets most frequently is “how high can weather balloons go?” To answer this question, we’re going to dive a little deeper into weather balloons.

How High Can Weather Balloons Go?

While no one can ever guarantee a weather balloon will soar to a specific height, the balloons typically reach between 60,000 and 105,000 feet. However, the highest recorded weather balloon flight on record was launched in 2002 and soared to an incredible height of 173,000 feet. This particular balloon was made of a special plastic that’s only ⅙ the thickness of a plastic grocery bag. How amazing is that?! The highest a StratoStar weather balloon has soared is 125,200 feet and was launched in 2011 at Depauw University.

How big are high-altitude weather balloons?

Before a weather balloon is filled with a lift gas like helium or hydrogen, it typically ranges in size from 2.5 feet to 8 feet in diameter. However, during the flight, the balloon will grow more than 4x the diameter it was before liftoff! For example, a weather balloon that’s 8 feet in diameter before launching can grow up to 35 feet in diameter. During the ascent, the balloon will keep growing larger and larger until it can’t stretch anymore. Then, it bursts! This bursting is what actually sends balloon back down to the ground.

How far do weather balloons travel?

It’s impossible to predict how far a weather balloon will travel because there are so many variables involved.
Time of year
Speed of ascent
Height of flight
Speed of descent
Atmospheric winds
The list keeps going. In the winter, when atmospheric winds are much more powerful, we typically predict weather balloons will travel approximately 35-75 miles from the launch site. In the summer, we predict balloons will travel approximately 1-35 miles.

Want to learn even more about what happens during a balloon launch? Check out our high-altitude weather balloon FAQ to learn more and find answers to your questions. When you’re ready, our team would love to schedule a call with you to talk about partnering for a balloon launch!