Earlier this year I commented on the EBEX balloon mission which used a long duration balloon flight around Antarctica to study the cosmic microwave background. EBEX flew for about 12 days before reducing levels of Helium in the balloon led to it flying too low to operate and the end of the mission.
I read today that a different balloon experiment, Super-Tiger (Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder), has set a new record for long duration balloon flight. Super-Tiger has been flying for 46 days, has circled Antarctica three times, and expects to be flying for another 8 to 10 days to allow the payload to land closer to McMurdo.
While a 40 to 50 day duration doesn’t match what you can get on orbit, the possibilities of such long duration balloon flights might make this kind of astronomy competitive with satellites for far- and mid-IR astronomy, especially if the balloon and payload can be relaunched quickly, and when you take launch costs into account.
That might make astronomers, and funding agencies, happy, but the space companies probably won’t like that kind of competition…