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The military is currently testing the use of small, inexpensive balloons to increase communications range. In combat areas, radios now have a range of 10 miles, but balloons could extend that to about 400 miles.
Searching for diamondsGem-mining company De Beers is leasing a Zeppelin-NT airship to hunt for potential diamond deposits in Botswana and South Africa from hundreds of feet up in the air. The rigid dirigible carries high-tech sensors from Bell Geospace that conduct geological scans to pinpoint the lower-density rock formations where diamonds may be found. Unlike airplanes, the Zeppelin-NT has a low level of noise and can cruise at low speeds, suitable for the advanced gravity geometry technology.
Here we see the De Beers Zeppelin-NT in flight near Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. The airship typically takes off at sunset and flies for six or seven hours a night, when there is less turbulence. According to a survey team member, it can cover as many as 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) in a day, compared with the 5 kilometers (just more than 3 miles) a ground crew can log.
NASA balloonsNASA has several ongoing balloon projects, including the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon project to research the use of balloons above the Troposphere. The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) experiment sent a 450-foot balloon over the Antarctic for almost 42 days--reaching an altitude of 125,000 feet (left). CREAM is designed to explore cosmic rays from outside the solar system.
On the right is a trial balloon launched in June 2006 for NASA by the Swedish Space Corporation to test the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon vehicle. The balloon reached a height of about 135,000 feet above the Earth's surface.