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Department of Defense to use stratospheric balloons from South Dakota company

Raven Industries launches a high altitude balloon
Spc. Joshua Thorne
Raven Industries
Raven Industries launches a high altitude balloon.

The Department of Defense will use stratospheric balloons developed by a South Dakota company.

Raven Industries has been awarded a $3.2 million contract with the Defense Innovation Unit, an organization within the federal Department of Defense. The contract value can be expanded if needed.

“Our Thunderhead Balloons can be tailored to solve critical national security challenges,” Jim Nelson, the manager of Raven Aerostar, said in a news release.

The balloons have sensors that can collect a large amount of data to help the DoD "develop a more complete operating picture and apply effects to the battlefield," the release says. "This effort seeks to build situational awareness with communications and earth observing technologies."

The Thunderhead Balloon System is also used for scientific research and commercial uses. The balloons can navigate over long distances and stay in the air for long periods of time.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.