RKW Group - CNES balloon 2019

RKW produces films for stratospheric balloons
Heading for space

RKW in space: In France, we produce high-performance films for stratospheric balloons. The CNES space agency project is just one of many exciting challenges for our teams.

Balloons climb to altitudes of up to 40 kilometers

RKW’s mission is to improve the daily lives of consumers worldwide with excellent solutions. Films manufactured by RKW now even make their way into space. The French space agency CNES commissioned RKW to produce high-performance films for its stratospheric balloons. The helium-filled balloons take high-tech instruments to altitudes of up to 40 kilometers, where the CNES analyzes the dynamics, physics, and chemistry of the stratosphere for space missions.

The stratosphere is …

… the second layer of the earth’s atmosphere. It is located between 15 and 50 km above the surface of our planet. In the stratosphere is the ozone that absorbs a large part of the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

Films for exceptional loads

This extraordinary task presented the employees at RKW’s Remy site in France with completely new challenges. After all, the balloons with a diameter of up to 148 meters and volume capacity of up to 1,200,000 m3 are exposed to exceptional loads as they climb towards space. “For the balloon envelope we had to produce a very thin high-performance film that is completely tear- and perforation-resistant. In addition, the film had to bear a weight of up to 1,750 kg over a period of several hours or even days in the harsh stratospheric conditions,” explains François Nélias, development engineer and product manager at RKW Remy.

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New challenges mastered

The RKW team developed an ultrathin film made from an impact- and perforation-resistant polyethylene resin, containing no additives whatsoever in order to prevent contamination by a secondary raw material. This represented a particular challenge for the extrusion process, but our team successfully mastered it, before going on to cut and weld together the film with a thickness of just 15 to 25 micrometers. This is how the envelopes for the various stratospheric balloons were produced.

The result is outstanding products that literally take RKW into new spheres, while once again demonstrating the fascinating roles offered by the family-run company – from developing sustainable hygiene films for consumers all over the world to special medical products and “flying films” for ascending into space.

You can find further information on the balloon activities of the French space agency CNES at: https://ballons.cnes.fr/fr