On a crisp winter day in regional NSW, a couple of high-altitude balloons could be seen floating up into the clouds.

But this was no joy flight - the two balloons each carried a series of networked sensors as part of a trial launch by RAAF’s Plan Jericho team.

The aim was to test how the rapidly deployable payloads could be used to improve situational awareness over a vast area.

Wing Commander Paul Hay, Plan Jericho’s Advanced Sensing lead, said high-altitude balloons offered a sovereign and low-cost complement to space-based systems.

“As our operating environment continues to become more complex, we need a greater number and diversity of small and low-cost sensors to give us the most up-to-date and comprehensive data,” Wing Commander Hay said.

Plan Jericho is trialling the application of these sensors as part of their advanced sensing program, which also includes sub-orbital rocket launches.

“By taking our payload up to the stratosphere, these balloons will help us to exploit the under-utilised altitudes between where aircraft generally fly and space, giving us a wide view on what’s happening below,” Wing Commander Hay said.

The intention is for the data to be integrated into a cutting-edge Combat Cloud, which is being developed by Plan Jericho.

“This will enable faster and better decisions to be made,” he said.

Jericho Director Group Captain Lyle Holt said the project was a collaboration between Defence and Thunderstruck Space.

This gives us excellent opportunities to access and test out cutting-edge technology, while supporting our local industry.

“At Plan Jericho, we look for partners who think like we do - Australian companies who are at the forefront of innovation,” Group Captain Holt said.

“This gives us excellent opportunities to access and test out cutting-edge technology, while supporting our local industry.”

Plan Jericho also used the launch as an opportunity to capture the imagination of the next generation of aerospace experts.

A 3D-printed Jasper – an animated character developed by Air Force to encourage more children to study STEM subjects – soared into the stratosphere on one of the balloons.

Mounted on the balloon, a 360° camera recorded footage, which was overlaid with scientific facts about the atmosphere.

CGI render using the digital model of Jasper’s plane circled the balloon as it reached the atmosphere.

The video will be shared across multiple social media channels, inspiring children by showing the incredible aerospace opportunities that are happening in Australia.

“We want to motivate these kids to study STEM and reach for the stars,” Wing Commander Hay said.

Head of Air Force Capability, Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts, applauded the flight.

“Now that Air Force is leading space within Defence, it is fitting we take Jasper with us into the stratosphere as one of our first steps,” she said.

The results of the trial will be evaluated for future integration into operations, helping Defence to advance Australian designed and developed launch capabilities.

Video of the launch can be seen at: https://innovatehub.sharepoint.com/:f:/s/mediahub/EjT9nnCtmqlKiIWR2pUbwt4BNIN0gb9lfZi3c1ps1nxPbw?e=Oz5Mp6