What were those two strange objects flying over Kansas City, Missouri last night? Plenty of people took to Twitter yesterday to speculate that they might be anything from internet balloons for Google’s Project Loon to slimy green aliens. But in reality, they’re almost certainly Darpa’s new test balloons. What was Darpa testing? How to fly around without propulsion.
The National Weather Service in Kansas City made residents a little nervous last night after it tweeted, “We honestly have no explanation for the floating objects over Kansas City.” A follow-up tweet included a photo with two distant white orbs in the sky:
Videos posted to YouTube even showed the white objects sailing through against the bright blue sky.
Gizmodo reached out to see if Google and Project Loon knew anything about the UFOs, but they said it wasn’t theirs.
“While Loon does routinely fly balloons over the [U.S.] from our launch site in Nevada, we do not currently have balloons in the area where the sightings have been reported,” Loon’s Scott Coriell told Gizmodo by email.
The U.S. Department of Defense wouldn’t confirm on the record that the mystery objects people saw last night were Darpa’s. But they did tell Gizmodo that three balloons had recently been launched by Darpa from Maryland.
“On June 18, DARPA launched three balloons from Cumberland, Maryland, in a flight test for the Adaptable Lighter Than Air program,” Department of Defense spokesperson Heather Babb told Gizmodo by email. “ALTA will demonstrate capability for wind-borne navigation of a lighter-than-air vehicle over extended ranges.”
Darpa even tweeted about the project on Tuesday, with language identical to what Ms. Babb told us. And while officially Darpa declined to comment on the record, one source with knowledge of Darpa’s programs confirmed to Gizmodo that those weird white flying objects are part of Darpa’s Adaptable Lighter Than Air program.
Unfortunately, there’s very little detailed information available about this particular government program.
But the Darpa website explains:
The goal of the Adaptable Lighter Than Air (ALTA) program is to develop and demonstrate a high altitude lighter-than-air vehicle capable of wind-borne navigation over extended ranges. The balloons can fly at altitudes of more than 75,000 feet. While they do not have independent propulsion, the ALTA vehicle is designed to navigate by changing altitude and thus taking advantage of different wind profiles aloft. A state-of-the-art Winds Aloft Sensor (WAS) is also being developed on the program, which is intended to provide real time stratospheric wind measurements.
We also know that the program manager is Dr. Alexander M. G. Walan who worked as at the Air Force Research Laboratory until 2017 when he joined Darpa. And there’s also this graphic, which shows the balloons that were likely seen over Kansas City:
Do you know what Darpa plans to do with this lighter-than-air-craft? Are there secret aliens inside? We’d love to hear from you—especially if it’s about the aliens part. But we’ll take any information you’ve got.
It’s getting harder and harder to be an alien skeptic these days, as the U.S. government seems to take UFO sightings more seriously in recent years. But these balloons in particular probably aren’t aliens. At least that’s what the U.S. government is saying. And they’ve never fibbed before, right?