By: Sam Doak
February 17 2023
Satellites orbit the earth and are not held up by balloons.
In early February, a Chinese-made balloon passed over the continental United States. While the Chinese government has maintained that it was a weather balloon, the U.S. government alleges that it was used to spy on American territory. This event generated a significant amount of headlines and led to intense levels of speculation and commentary on social media. While much of this was reasonably grounded, a number of more outlandish related claims have emerged since.
One narrative that has circulated in the wake of this event is that satellites aren't real and that all technology supposedly in orbit is actually held up by balloons. One Instagram reel that makes this claim states, "it is now public knowledge that they send up satellites on massive helium-filled balloons. As you should know, NASA is the largest consumer of helium in the world for obvious reasons. But the issue with society is they never critically think."
The video's narrator proceeds to claim that all footage of satellites is made through the use of CGI and states that the world is flat and stationary.
While NASA is one of the largest single consumers of helium, this is not because it is launching satellites with balloons. According to the agency, "NASA uses helium as an inert purge gas for hydrogen systems and a pressurizing agent for ground and flight fluid systems. Helium is also used throughout the agency as a cryogenic agent for cooling various materials and has been used in precision welding applications. Helium is required to support the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), International Space Station, and various other programs."
An article from the Institute of Physics explains how satellites reach orbit, which does not involve balloons. According to the Institute, "First of all the satellite is placed on top of a huge rocket to carry it away from the Earth and up through the atmosphere. Once it is at the required height, sideways rocket thrusts of just the right strength are applied to send the satellite into orbit at the correct speed."
The narrator in the Instagram reel is incorrect to state that the earth is flat and stationary. According to Arizona State University, "like the other planets, the Earth is a sphere. It rotates around its own axis slowly but continuously, and completes this rotation about once every 24 hours. As the Earth rotates, part of the Earth is facing the sun, and part of it faces away. This is why some parts of the world have day and night at different times."
Satellites exist in orbit and are not held up by balloons. While NASA is a large consumer of helium, this is because it has a range of uses beyond providing lift to balloons. There is no evidence that the earth is flat and stationary, and all evidence points to the contrary. This claim has therefore been marked as false.