In 1991, ISTAR began supporting stratospheric "Near Space" research programs utilizing high altitude balloons. This first balloon campaign was directly in support of a NASA funded ozone investigation over Greenland with a team from Harvard University. In 1992, ISTAR took the field management role of the NASA funded stratospheric balloon program in Antarctica.
From 1992 through 2001, ISTAR successfully managed over 20 separate 800,000 m3 balloons from Antarctica and launched a series of smaller balloons. During that period, ISTAR also managed and led the recovery team of the payloads and flight hardware. The 800,000 m3 balloons have a lift capability up to 2,948 kg and a nominal float altitude of 37,277 m. The balloon weighs 1,675 kg and were made of a proprietary film called Stratofilm-450.
In 2001, ISTAR was contacted by the Italian Space Agency to manage and lead the development of the first Long Duration Balloon Program in Europe through the University of Rome La Sapienza. ISTAR chose Svalbard, Norway as the launch location and base of the newly formed Nobile/Amundsen Stratospheric Balloon Center in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. This effort has resulted in 17 balloon launches since 2003, including the successful 2009 launch of the SORA experiment with 4 piggyback payloads on a 800,000 m3 balloon. ISTAR performed the launch operations without an experienced crew then traveled to Baffin Island, Canada to recovery the payload.
From the start of the Nobile/Amundsen SBC in Svalbard, ISTAR took a primary interest in developing this program to make use of smaller balloons to carry scientific experiments, commercial access to Near Space and as an easy avenue to introduce students to Near Space research. In June of 2006, ISTAR launched the first circumpolar balloon flight of the northern polar region from Svalbard carrying the PEGASO experiment, which measured the flux of the Earth’s magnetic field. This balloon made a near perfect circle around the North Pole in 14 days landing north of Thule Greenland.
In addition to the ballooning efforts in Svalbard, ISTAR began development of the Italian LDB program in in Antarctica from the M.Z. Station at Bay Terra Nova. During that period, ISTAR designed and fabricated the radiation shields, passive heat exchange and equipment stands for the BRAIN experiment, a ground based interferometer, that was on location at Concordia Station Antarctica. While in Antarctica setting up the BRAIN experiment, ISTAR traveled back through M.Z. Station and launched the Italian LDB experiment PEGASO for INGV... Rome, Italy.