The NASA Superpressure Balloon Project: Unique Challenges of Lightweight Structures
Sergio Pellegrino
Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics
and Civil Engineering Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Senior Research Scientist, Caltech


The NASA Balloon Program provides high altitude balloon platforms for scientific investigations of the Earth, the solar system and the universe. These helium-filled balloons provide relatively fast and low-cost access to near-space but the current balloon design limits the duration of a mission, due to the loss of gas during each day-night cycle. A new balloon design is currently under development, to provide a closed, pressurized envelope that will allow missions lasting 100 days or more.   The new design is a giant pressure vessel with a pumpkin shape; it has a diameter on the order of 120 m and height of 80 m. This novel structure has posed unexpected challenges for the design team, which have required unique analysis and design techniques.

Sergio Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Civil Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and JPL Senior Research Scientist, received his Laurea in Civil Engineering from the University of Naples in 1982 and his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1986. Between 1983 and 2007 he was on the faculty of the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. His main research focus is the mechanics of lightweight flexible structures and particularly problems related to packaging, deployment, shape control and stability. Currently his main interests are deployable space structures made of ultra-thin composite materials, active mirrors and stratospheric balloons. Dr Pellegrino received the ICE James Watt Medal 2000; a Pioneers’ Award in 2002 from the Space Structures Research Center, University of Surrey; AIAA Gossamer Spacecraft Forum Best Paper Awards in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011; IASS Tsuboi Awards in 2004, 2005, and 2007; the 2008 ASME/Boeing Best Paper Award; and the 2009 NASA Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Team Award. Dr Pellegrino is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of AIAA and a Chartered Structural Engineer. He is the Chair of the AIAA Gossamer Systems Program Committee and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the IASS. Dr Pellegrino is the author of over 200 technical publications.