The first of a series of high-altitude balloon launch trials has commenced, with the first balloon being successfully launched this week from West Wyalong in NSW. The trials are being used to test the Defence’s ability to quickly send sensors and communications equipment into the upper atmosphere carried on a balloon.

Plan Jericho is undertaking a number of advanced sensing activities, including high altitude balloon launches and sub-orbital rocket launches. (PHOTO: Government handout)

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said the balloon was launched into the stratosphere to explore the under-utilised altitudes between space and where aircraft generally fly. “The trial aims to demonstrate Australian-designed and developed launch capabilities that can deliver and maintain sensor payloads to an altitude that significantly improves situational awareness over a wide area,” Reynolds said. “Having these high altitude balloons as part of Australia’s sovereign capability means that we could deploy advanced sensors into the atmosphere quickly and cost-effectively, giving our forces comprehensive data in the air, on the ground, or at sea.”

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said the government’s investments in defence capability are creating new opportunities for local businesses to innovate and take up opportunities in Australia’s burgeoning space sector. The “Air Force’s partnership with ThunderStruck Space will help boost their capability and give us greater opportunities to access innovative Australian stratospheric launch capabilities,” Price said. “It offers Australian industry the chance to conduct quick and relatively low-cost, pre-launch testing of space payloads, before being integrated onto launch vehicles for deployment into orbit.”

A 3D printed version of Jasper, an award-winning animated character developed by the Air Force to encourage more children to pursue STEM careers, will be filmed as she is carried aloft into the stratosphere on one of the balloons.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said this offers an exciting way to demonstrate the application of science and advanced technologies to a broad audience. “This event is sure to capture the imagination of our young people who are fascinated by aerospace,” Andrews said. “The fact that these launches are happening right here in our backyard gives Australians a real sense of the incredible opportunities and career pathways that are available.”

The trials are taking place in close consultation with the Civilian Aviation Safety Authority.

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