1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

    Why Helium

    Lots of near space weather baloons going up, but they all seem to be full of Helium, God's second favourite element, (you didn't think he had a favourite? Haven't you read your Bible ?)

    Helium is expensive and getting rarer and Hydrogen (HIS favourite) is cheap *and* H2 has half the molecular weight of He.

    It seems to me that not only can Hydrogen get you more lift, but you can play the trick of not inflating the balloon so much meaning that it pops at a higher altitude.

    Yes, I know it burns, but I just can't being myself to care, if somehow you managed to make it go bag several thousand metres up, you might not even see it, let alone hurt anyone, also it is slightly harder to make it explode than you might think.

    So why isn't it used ?

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Why Helium

      Well firstly, Hydrogen is the devil itself to get to stay inside anything. By the time your hydrogen-filled weather ballon makes it to altitude you'll have already lost quite a bit of it, so your maximum acheivable altitude is compromised. Hydrogen filled airships used internal cells with a multi-layer construction having sealant between each layer and they still leaked a significant amount. Handily this would compensate for the fuel burned adding lightness to the arrangement.

      Secondly, they can go bang on the ground too (c.f. Hindenburg). That's not nice for anyone standing around at the time, like the bloke filling it off a bottle while stood in the arse end of nowhere.

      1. JamesTQuirk

        Re: Why Helium

        It didn't help that they painted (silver) Hindenburg with Solid Rocket Booster Fuel as used NASA's space shuttle, thats why when you watch footage, the cover burns away, hydrogen Burnt UP mostly, Radient Heat, Hot Aliumium and burning crap fell on those below ....

        PS ... I am sure you can increase Helium Life by Heating it, giving a lift from heating/cooling gas, maybe Hydrogen as well, but more delicate ....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why Helium

      Your question nudged Lester to write this article.

  2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    There's another factor to add here. Apparently while Lester Haines is working his Spanish friends to death on Register Special Projects, their only comfort is beer and cigarettes. I believe he's stated this is as one of the reasons he won't consider hydrogen for LOHAN. They won't go without ciggies.

    I suppose he could consider it evolution in action. But if you incinerate the owner, and patrons, of your local bar, not only will there be no-one to drink with, but no-one to serve the drinks either.

    If Hydrogen really is God's favourite gas, then I guess you could consider this an example of original sin.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    IIRC big weather balloon payloads *are* hydrogen.

    I f you want to take a metric ton of prototype Xray or gamma ray telescope to the edge of space you need something pretty substantial and if swept up further (the outer atmosphere can expand and contract by a factor of 10) it can burst and down comes your hardware. This needs a big balloon and on that scale H2 is a much better deal.

    I'm not sure if they tank it in or generate on site however. On site GH2 generation is quite simple (with the right materials) and highly controllable. None of the starting materials are a gas either.

  4. Rol Silver badge


    Err, I guess that's a phew, no thanks.

    Hows about using nitrogen, with a little added widget for an extra kick, a small battery powered heating cell that mounts inside the balloon, it won't ascend very fast, but it will tick most of the environmental boxes?


    Make the balloon using black material with a modicum of insulation and perhaps heat the gas at ground level....ah! Totally over the top insulation and super heated nitrogen, with a super heated mass of suitably high heat capacity suspended in the balloon to counteract heat loss.

    Or, now this ones worth throwing into the melee

    A honeycombed structure that supports an evacuated sphere. Don't think vacuum flask, but rather ping pong balls, using some hybrid polymer, carefully calculated to withstand the pressure with an overall density less than air. If anyone has access to a modelling program and the time to waste, it would be interesting to know just how daft my idea really is.

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