Computer Simulations of Global Networks of Stratospheric Balloons

Matthew K. Heun, R. Stephen Schlaifer, Kim Aaron, Kerry Nock, Alexey Pankine, Naomi Ehrich Leonard, Edward A. Belbruno, and Pradeep Bhatta

6th Symposium on Integrated Observing Systems, American Meteorological Society.
Global Aerospace Corporation, with funding provided by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), is developing a revolutionary concept for a global constellation and network of hundreds of stratospheric superpressure balloons which can address major scientific questions relating to NASA’s Earth Science Mission by measuring stratospheric gases, collecting data on atmospheric circulation, observing the Earth’s surface, and detecting and monitoring environmental hazards. As part of this overall effort, Global Aerospace Corporation and Princeton University are studying methods of controlling the geometry of these stratospheric balloon constellations using concepts related to and inspiration derived from biological group behavior such as schooling, flocking, and herding.
The balloons in the constellation float at a near-constant 35 km altitude. Their trajectories are controlled by a StratoSail® Trajectory Control System (TCS). The StratoSail® TCS provides bounded and underactuated control of balloon trajectories, and the balloons drift in the stratospheric winds, a non-uniform external flow field.
In this paper, we investigate the use of the concepts of Artificial Potentials and Weak Stability Boundary Theory to provide coordinated control of the distributed balloons. Artificial potentials are used to determine control actions for individual members of a constellation. With artificial potentials, it is possible to model simple, local (near-neighbor) traffic rules that lead to higher functionality at the group level. This concept of behavior and intelligence of a group that emerges from decentralized, individual-level rules is inspired by natural groupings. We model and control the geometry of the stratospheric balloon constellation in much the same spirit as biologists understand and model animal aggregations such as schooling fish and flocking birds.

(8 pages pdf)
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