A giant Air Force balloon will fly to the stratosphere this week carrying experiments designed by Utah State University students.

The balloon will be launched from Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, N.M., said USU research associate Gilbert Moore.Such flights are scheduled every six months, providing an important test for USU instruments designed for eventual flight on the space shuttle, Moore said.

The 3-million-square-foot balloon takes two hours to reach 106,000 feet. After six hours in the sub-zero temperatures and partial vacuum of the stratosphere, the balloon will be lowered to 80,000 feet and the USU payload dropped by parachute.

About 20 students and their advisors,including some from Brigham Young University and Brighton High School, will be in New Mexico on Wednesday to recover their instruments at the site.

USU student experiments are also tested on NASA's KC-135 microgravity airplane. The combination of the balloon and microgravity tests are expected to increase the success rate when USU experiments are flown on the space shuttle, Moore said.