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Flying High: RKW produces films for stratospheric balloons

Flying High: RKW produces films for stratospheric balloons

News 08.04.2019
7

The RKW Group is literally bringing film manufacturing to a whole new level: At its Site RKW Rémy in Saultain, France, RKW produces high-performance technical films for the stratospheric balloons of the French space agency CNES (Centre national d'études spatiales). The balloons made with RKW film are used for missions at heights of up to 40 kilometers and therefore depend on special material properties and high quality.

With a diameter of up to 148 m and volume capacities of 3,000 to 1,200,000 m3, the development of the envelope for the CNES stratospheric zero pressure balloon (ZPB) or BSO (Ballon Stratosphérique Ouvert) posed several challenges to the experts at Rémy. "We were required to produce a very thin high-performance film for the balloon envelope that had to be absolutely tear and perforation resistant. It also had to carry a weight of up to 1,750 kg in the harsh environment conditions of the stratosphere over several hours or even a few days," explains François Nélias. R&D Engineer & Product Manager at RKW Rémy. "'The film is made from a high impact and puncture resistant polyethylene resin. The use of any additive such as polymer processing aids is out of the question, as we have to prevent any contamination from a second raw material. This of course makes the extrusion process even more difficult."

RKW has met the challenge. Hundreds of meters of the only 15 to 25µm thick film are processed, cut and welded together to produce the balloon envelope with tear panel and degassing sleeves.

CNES, the French Space Agency, develops and operates stratospheric balloons such as the ZPB/BSO for a variety of scientific measurements. At heights of up to 40 kilometers, the helium-filled balloon transports instruments that perform, among other things, astronomy missions and in situ measurements in the stratosphere to study its dynamics, physics and chemistry.

About the company

The RKW Group is an independent, family-owned company headquartered in Frankenthal, Germany and one of the world's foremost manufacturers of excellent film solutions. RKW is the market leader in the areas of hygiene and agricultural films, films for the beverage industry and packaging for powdery goods. In addition, the company makes films and nonwovens for medical applications, for the chemical and converting industries as well as for the construction sector. In the fiscal year 2018, RKW generated total sales of EUR 878 million. About 3,000 employees process 367,000 tonnes of plastic materials at 20 locations around the world.

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