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Stadium-sized space balloon launched by Nasa to study cosmic particles

Nasa has launched a pressure balloon the size of a stadium to begin collecting space data during a 100-day mission.

The balloon was finally launched in New Zealand, after several earlier launch attempts were thwarted by storms and cyclones.

The balloon, designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to detect ultra high-energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, is expected to circle the planet two or three times.

“The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?” Angela Olinto, a University of Chicago professor and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.

The balloon’s monitoring was only the start of a long quest which would next involve a space mission currently being designed by NASA, she added.

The balloon, launched on Tuesday in Wanaka, a scenic spot on New Zealand’s South Island, will collect data from 34 km above the earth.

New Zealand was also the base for NASA’s scientific balloon programme in 2015 and 2016.

That programme cost $1.94m (£1.51m) to produce and carried a $1.5m science payload including a gamma-ray imager designed to allow scientists to make new discoveries about the evolution of the universe. 

Google has been using balloons orbiting very high in the earth’s atmosphere to beam internet down to remote regions, but it has faced difficulties with maintaining the balloon’s location.

A recently developed algorithm to keep the balloons in one place for longer has raised hopes among engineers that the technology could find a practical use. 

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