How much did the Chinese Balloon weigh? Napkin Calc

Last week, major news outlets reported that the inner core of Earth was about to stop turning. Now a prominent columnist has declared that the Chinese balloon weighed as much as three buses, which is about 105,000 lbs. This is baloney. So I did a calculation.

We need the diameter of the balloon. Based on a photo, and the length of the truss, stated by U.S. authorities as three coach bus lengths (12 meters/bus X 3), the diameter is estimated as 50 meters.. We use:

  • Density of helium at STP.
  • Height of 20,000 meters.
  • An altitude air density table for standard day,
  • Adjustment of buoyancy  for altitude with Boyle’s Law.
  •  F=m*g for the force to be balanced.

This determines a total weight in the vicinity of 11,000 pounds. The payload may be a third of that.