HISTORY OF SOLAR BALLOONING

  The Académie de Dijon aerostat

The Académie de Dijon aerostat

1794 - THE FIRST UNINTENTIONAL FLIGHT OF A SOLAR BALLOON: l'Académie de Dijon

After one year from first hot air balloon flight lead by the Montgolfier Brothers, another important flight took place.

On 29th May 1784, the aerostat called Académie de Dijon, with its 3565 m3 was lying outdoor, still inflated from a flight, in order to let dry some new polish it was just treated with. It was left there until the following day. The temperatures were very high as the beginning of summer, and the 30th of May, around noon, a strong wind started blowing, shaking the balloon. Two guards - that were there to put an eye on it - try to hold it by the stitch of the net, but it broke into their hands and the aerostat started flowing away. It first flew in a courtyard, carrying with it the net and ropes, adding up to 122 kg, including the envelop weight. After making its way out the court, it flew east, over a building and close to another courtyard where a sixteen years old boy named Crosnier, Being - weighted 34,7 kg - courageously grabbed one of the ropes to hold back the balloon and he turned the rope around his wrist: in that very same moment he had been lifted and carried over a wall 2,9 m high, falling down on the other side. After this episode, the balloon continued it’s travel, passing over Course de la porte Bourbon, greeted by the astonishment of people running excited to see it. It fell down after a while, onto some recently planted trees, which teared it apart from all its length.
“Voyages aériens” - by J. Glaisher, C. Flamarion, W.De Fonvielle et G.Tissandier - Hachette - 1870 [tba]

DOMINIC MICHAELIS AND HIS SOLAR BALLOONS.
During the Seventies, Michaelis is leading a team of architects and engineers specialized in use of solar energie.

With a thesis on Solar houses in 1964, Dominic Michaelis completed his architect formation, and started to direct international consulting group was called Solar Energy Developments with which Dominic Michaelis realized a 45 m diameter Solar Dome for the movie Hu-Man directed by Jérôme Lapérousaz.
Dominic Michaelis believed that an hot air balloon can be able to fly only with the power of the sun. To confirm this, he built a small balloon with a double skin envelope: the differential of temperature from the inside and the outside of the balloon was about 27°C, which corresponds to a lift of approximately 100 grams per m3. Then, after building other small balloons,Michaelis tried with a larger one, with a diameter of 10 m, that was able to lift his son Stéphane - 30 kg - who became the first person ever lifted by a solar balloon. The first human pilot of a solar tethered balloon.
After his first balloon escaped and flew away, in 1972 Michaelis built a huge balloon of 22 meter diameter- around 5000 cubic meter - with a 12 micron transparent polyester film (Melinex® - Mylar® of DuPont Polyester Films). Inside the balloon, there were three vertical black screens with 120° between each, forming a trefoil. The air inside the balloon got heated by greenhouse effect and the black screens pick up the energy through the transparent polyester film. The envelope is reinforced by vertical and horizontal adhesive tapes (J-Lar910® or J-Larii®). These tapes define 240 panels and limit the possible tearing to a maximum length of 50 cm. The balloon is fitted with a aluminum honeycomb basket (very stiff and light). This specific balloon easily lifted one adult man. The test flights were conducted tethered to a car.

DOMINIC MICHAELIS AND THE FIRST MANNED FREE SOLAR FLIGHT IN EUROPE. In order to be able to perform a free flight with a solar balloon, Michaelis chose to build a balloon with a double envelope, the internal black and the second layer, outside, was transparent.

Commissioning it to Cameron Balloons in Bristol: a black balloon 3000 m3 built of polyester (Dacron®) and a transparent balloon 4000 m3 made of a double layered transparent (Melinex®). The transparent outer skin consists of two transparent films with in between a layer of glue coated reinforcing mesh. Each hole in the mesh defines an air bubble. These air bubbles increase the insulation.
The transparent balloon produces the greenhouse effect while the inner black envelope picks up the trapped solar radiation and transfers this energy to the air enclosed within it. The thermal looses by convection of the black balloon are totally recovered for the lifting of the transparent envelope. The twin envelopes were attached to the basket where a gas burner was fitted to ease the inflation, or to cope with the possibility of cloud cover during the flight. The altitude control is done by the opening or closing of horizontal panels located at the balloon equator.and the deflation is made possible by irreversible rip panels at the balloon crowns.
This balloon (number G-BAVU) participated in some hot air balloon festivals in England from 1976 to 1980. The flights where usually performed during the late evening in such a way that, assuming a valve failure, the uncontrollable balloon would not rise too high.

Along the seventies, is important to mention also Tracy Barnes in the U.S., who made several solar flights under a tetrahedral single skin solar balloon, like the 'Barnes Solar Firefly Tetrahedron'.: he was first manned pure solar balloon flight on 1 May 1973. Jim Woodman with the Condor I and Fredrick Eshoo with the Sunstat.

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JULIAN NOTT AND THE CHANNEL CROSSING                    During the international ISES meeting about solar energy held in Brighton in 1981, Julian Nott (already with an hot air balloon altitude world record in 1980 : 55000 feet) decided to attempt the channel crossing with Dominic Michaelis’s solar balloon.

The balloon took off at 7h 30 am on 22nd of August 1981, at North West of Dover, GB. After a very silent crossing without any troubles, the balloon landed at Tournehem sur la Hem in the Pas-de-Calais, FR.
During the flight, Nott used the burner only once: during the landing. He had some difficulty to deflate the balloon because the valves were not working well that day. The envelope is conserved at the British Balloon Museum.

MIR (MONTGOLFIÈRE INFRAROUGE) : THE STRATOSPHERIC BALLOON OF CNES
Since 1977, the french CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales - sort of French N.A.S.A) developed the MIR balloon for the stratospheric long duration scientific flight.

During the day, the MIR balloon flies at an altitude of about 28 to 32 km and during night between 18 to 22 km depending on the infrared flux radiating from the over flown area and the temperature of the air at the flight altitude. They can carry a payload of about 50 kg. The route follow the stratospheric wind. Enough for more than on turn around the world. The MIR is a hot air balloon “open at the bottom” with an helium complement at takeoff. With their reflective cover, those balloons from 35 000 m3 to 45 000 m3 are heated only by the heat from the sun during the day or the infrared radiation from the earth during the night. The “passive” heater heat the air within the balloon, giving some lift to the vehicle; the MIR is made of two different materials, presenting a good compromise between optic-thermal properties and weight: the top part is made of aluminized Mylar 12 μm thick, making a cavity for absorbing ascendants infrared and block any re-emission toward the sky; the bottom part is made of linear polyethylene 15μm thick ,an infrared transparent material and tough at cold (temperature inferior to -80°C) during the flight.

ENCLOSING A CLOUD IN A BALLOON: JEAN-PAUL DOMEN AND THE BULLE D'ORAGE. A revolutionary hot air balloon

At the beginning, I wanted to make a solar balloon. I didn’t know it was already made and even distributed by the kid magazine Pif Gadget : some plastic trash bags to build a black screen, adhesive tape to put together the envelope. Build it in my kitchen ... Launch... and a ridiculous result : my toy got into a tangle at the top of the TV antenna of my neighbor... anyway, it flew for a short while. From this time, I have extrapolated to build a solar balloon able to lift a human to a high altitude. Computing all that I noticed that the needed energy increase faster with the balloon size than the energy actually intercepted. To sum-up the bigger the balloon the slower it rise. So we need an energy proportional to the volume."

It is into the huge amount of energy available in thunder storms that Jean-Paul Domen found the solution: into a cumulonimbus cloud, the vertical velocity can reach 100m/s because of the heat generated by the condensing water vapor.
The rest is easy to guess: “what if we’d do the same into the balloon enclosing a small cloud?”. The thunder cell balloon was born.

The water vapor is stored into the envelope. During the ascent, the sun heats up the air and when the “point de rosée” (dew point altitude) is reached - during a sunny summer day around 2000m altitude - it is mainly the condensing  water vapor that provides the energy needed to continue the ascent.
Jean-Paul Domen, independent engineer, has made a vapor generator adapted to this project, then he performed some flight with the balloon Bulle d’Orage during the years 1992 to 1996.
Most of those test have been realized under the control of CNES, Centre National d’Études Spatiales, and the goal was to lift a heavy payload into the stratosphere:

  • 15 May 1992. Payload 1 kg - Balloon 30m3 - Reached altitude: 18000m.
  • 6 May 1993, Payload 40 kg - Balloon 600m3 - Reached altitude: 12200m.
  • February 1996, Payload 270 kg - Balloon 8000m3 - 25m diameter - Reached altitude: 12000m.

Summer 1996, Jean-Paul Domen performs the first free flight of a solar balloon on a distance of 300m. The balloon was 16m diameter inflated with ambient air (without adding vapor ). The balloon was made by a simple envelope of black polyethylene thickness: 15 microns. A valve 2,5m diameter is fitted at the top. The bottom opening is about 2m wide ; a propeller driven by an electric motor permitted the inflation/deflation of the balloon to control the altitude.

Gérard Auvray Collaboration
Working with Jean-Paul Domen, Gérard Auvray, electronic engineer and radio ham F6FAO, have used some 4m diameter solar balloons for experiments transmitting: temperatures, humidity, altitude.
The 6 July 1997 at 9h30 a 4m takeoff from Arcachon with a 500 gr payload: power card, analog to binary converter card analog /digital/format packet, card probe and, bip-bip transmitter. The balloon acended to more than 18000m. The outside temperature was -50°C and polyethylene temperature got up to 80°C !. The balloon landed close of Marseille around 23h 30. 
The localization of the balloon during the flight was made possible by radio ham (chasse aux renards).
Working with Jean-Paul Domen, Gérard Auvray made a solar drone 6 m wingspan and weighing 7 kg. This drone will be carried to high altitude by a solar balloon then dropped - this will avoid the flight through the dense layers of the atmosphere. It should then in total autonomy cross the Atlantic. It will use the stratospheric winds that goes from east to west opposite to the atmospheric currents, there will be no cloud at this height and the day zone also goes to the west . It will have to compute it's route with the help of a microprocessor linked to a GPS, and an inclinometer and to the engines from Emmanuel Laurent and François Kormann.

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LAURENT BESSET CARRY OUT DOMEN AND AUVRAY LEGACY
Spring 2000, Laurent Besset discover the solar balloon after a meeting with Jean-Paul Domen and Gérard Auvray and he decides to continue their project.
Laurent Besset also build an electronic card performing two functions :

  • auto stabilizer of the flight altitude: a software that controls the opening and closing off a valve at the top of the balloon, a servo control wind up or unwind the string controlling the valve.
  • display parameters for manual control: altitude, inner temperature-outside temperature, distance envelope to valve, battery power level.

In the summer of 2000, Besset checked and performed calculations and tests: envelope (template, build method , sizing of the valve, the rip panel, rotation panel), loading circle link to the polyethylene envelope), harness ballast (fastening on the loading circle ), material for inflating ( protection fabric on the ground, fan, tethering) and building the altitude control.
During he summer 2001, Besset performed some tethered test flight with 11 m and 14,5 m balloon many indoor tests of the electronic (altitude mode auto pilot) : simulating altitude variation, distance envelope to valve variation, software modifications. Creation of a mini-balloon able to be built in a living room by anybody.

Other important figures in the field are Emmanuel Laurent et François Kormann, membres du GRETSS (Groupe de Recherche et d'Etudes des Techniques Spatiales de Strasbourg).

ALEJANDRO URIBE AND THE LARGEST SOLAR BALLOON

In 1998, in Medellin (Colombia), Alejandro Uribe aim is to change the tradition of paper balloons using only the sun to heat them. In South America (especially in Brazil) there is a hot air balloon tradition (sometime more than 60 m tall). They are made of silk paper or Kraft, built by the population. Those balloons are a part of the local popular art and big fairs. Balloon of all size and shapes, carry banners, during the night they are illuminated by a candle. Hanged under it, there is a gas burner that heat up the air into the balloon. Kids and adults to follow the balloons during the day and try to be the first to catch it when they are back on the ground. But those balloons can start big fire (forest fire, household fire , etc.). In Brazil, for example, the police forbid those type of balloons: building them is outlaw since 1998. But the baloeiros (the balloon makers) cling to their traditions: they secretly continued to build giant paper balloon and they launch them over the neighborhood. In December 1995, a paper balloon set a fire that totally destroyed the Renault industrial plant: la SOFASA. Since then, the police had destroied all balloon under construction and forbid all flights. But the tradition still continues undercover.
Alejandro Uribe retained the memory of a gimmick that was given with the milk packs - back in the eighties: a cylindrical solar balloon, the same as the Pif Gadget. Therefore, he tried to make the tradition evolve from the paper balloon to the solar. He uses polyethylene which is much more efficient to pickup the sun energy than silk paper.
In 1998, he made a 5 m solar balloon assembling black trash bags, one of those balloon with a reflective part have been mistaken for an UFO and caused a great fear in the population.

Initially, he manufactures solar balloons in black polyethylene. Then he uses colored polyethylene as well as non-symmetrical shapes.

For the beginning of the 21st century, in 31 December 1999, Uribe inflates a structure of 135m long made with 250 kg of polyethylene and 17 km from tape. There was a big audience and the press and television were also present in order to assist at the lifting of the largest solar balloon ever built. A musician play flute into the balloon to improve the chances and the luck. The balloon took off a few time loosing its shape, then it ended up by lifting up and fly above the town. unfortunately, a huge hole caused the balloon to crash in some power lines, after only 15 minutes flight. After that,the balloon was recovered, and in 20 days it was fixed again and ready to fly again on January 23th of 2000 and this time, successfully. After that, Uribe made many different shapes.
To perpetuate the tradition of the balloon festival,since 2001, the month of December, Uribe organizes the Fiesta del Globo Solar - Festival of Solar Baloon.

Source: Balloonsolaire.pagesperso by Laurent Besset.

CHRISTOPHE PRATURLON AND THE SOLAR JUMP

In January 2011, at the 9th Dolomiti Balloon Festival in Toblach / Dobbiaco, South Tyrol, took place the Solar Jump performed by Christophe Praturlon.

FIRST WEATHER DETECTION WITH SOLAR BALLOON

The first 100% solar weather probe, named Ballon ORA, was launched from the French Antarctic Dumont d'Urville Station in January 2011 by a joint team of students, scientists and engineers.

The idea was to assess the feasibility of using solar balloons as probes in remote area, where saving the use of lifting gas, helium or hydrogen, would be precious. The flight was a success, approaching 46,000 ft (14,000 m). The savings do not only concern the lifting gas in itself. The ORA Balloon alleviates the need for the transportation, in and out, of the heavy gas canisters.

 

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Aerocene Foundation