Advanced, robust, yet inexpensive observational platforms and networks of platforms will make revolutionary Earth science observations possible in the next 30 years. One new platform concept that is needed is a long-duration stratospheric balloon flying in a near-space environment and capable of remaining aloft for a year carrying a half ton of payload. We dub these platforms StratoSats for stratospheric satellites because they usually orbit the Earth in the stratosphere with an orbit period of 10–20 days. StratoSats can complement space satellites or play a completely independent role in Earth observation. Constellations of these platforms could steer themselves to desired locations and perform coordinated in situ and remote sensing observations of the Earth and its atmosphere. In principle, such constellations could easily surpass the capabilities of a single satellite for far less cost. NASA has defined stratospheric science measurement requirements and platform capabilities for several Earth science disciplines, including atmospheric chemistry, Earth radiation budget, geomagnetism, and weather. StratoSats can satisfy these measurement requirements and platform capabilities. Key enabling technologies for StratoSats include very long-life, sealed super-pressure balloons and techniques for balloon guidance. These key technologies are relatively mature, having achieved successful prototype and model tests in relevant environments, although a final push in engineering development is needed with a focus on meeting Earth science platform needs.

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Global Aerospace Corporation, Altadena, California

University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland

UCAR, Boulder, Colorado

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

*CURRENT AFFILIATION: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

+ADDITIONAL AFFILIATION: Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.