Launching a stratospheric balloon from the Glen Canyon dam

The town of Page, located in NE Arizona, originally was born as a group of temporary buildings that housed the thousands of laborers who worked in the construction of Glen Canyon dam, and became with the years a small city, which now have his main income from the flow of tourist visiting the canyon each year.

The dam, which was built between 1957 and 1963 is the second largest in the U.S. with 216 meters high and its main mission is to generate electricity for the southwestern part of the country, to help to control the flow of the Colorado river and to provide water to several cities located nearby.

Glen Canyon was first selected as a balloon launch site in May 1962, for a project called "Polariscope" carried out by the National Center of Atmospheric Research on behalf the University of Arizona. A test flight using vertical inflation and static launch methods was attempted and successfully completed in December 1962.

The Page area was given preference over several other areas in the southwest that had predominately light surface winds during the winter season because it afforded the shelter of a deep canyon and the dam for a static launch of delicate systems which can not withstand the accelerations of a dynamic launch.

In 1962-63 several balloon launches were made from the canyon. The ease of accomplishment and the success of these launches spawned the idea of using the canyon at Page as an alternate winter launch site to supplement the flight station at Palestine, Texas. This was because during the winter months, winds in the upper atmosphere often would carry long-duration flights launched from Texas out over the Atlantic Ocean making recovery difficult or even highly improbable.

A climatological analysis of the Page area along with a plan for developing the tail-water area of the canyon (located water down the Dam) for launch purposes were presented to the NCAR Panel in May of 1963. After detailed consideration, the Panel recommended a further study of local climatology, a comprehensive investigation of the accessibility of the tail-water area and an evaluation of the benefits derived from launches in the canyon as compared with launches from the Page Airport.

The time required for the canyon wind study made it impossible to initiate field work during the 1963-64 winter season. However, a program to investigate wind conditions near the Airport was completed during this period. The findings of this study indicating that wind conditions near the Airport were excellent for static launches of large balloons were presented to the Panel the next year along with a new proposal for the development of a permanent winter launch site at the Airport.

The Panel approved the proposal and endorsed several actions: the execution of two long-term agreements between the Bureau of Reclamation and the NSF to allow the use of land at the Glen Canyon Airport, and the tailwater area below Glen Canyon Dam to establish balloon launching facilities there. Also was decided the construction of an 80' X 40' prefabricated metal building containing offices, shop and staging areas as well a graded and stabilized launching area measuring 750' x 750' at the northeast corner of the Airport.

The tailwater area was located in the canyon itself. The project included the launch area an access road as well an elevator as can be seen in the scheme at left (click to enlarge). When the Panel aproved these plans it took particular note of the fact that it will be significantly less expensive to construct facilities at the Airport rather than to build them in the canyon. Nevertheless, it recommended to retain the right to use the tail-water area for launching very large and sophisticated balloon systems needeing in the future such a place. A total of $ 65.000 were budgeted in Fiscal Year 1965 for the project.

With the Federal Aviation Authority approval to construct the desired facilities at the Airport, and the land agreement under negotiation, the next step was to prepare the plans and specifications for the construction of the facilities.

During Fiscal year 1966, after completion of the design tasks a little more than $ 56,600 left available for the project, which was insufficient to let a contract for the required construction.

However the final point for the future of the winter facility arrived in the September 1964 meeting of the Panel when they endorsed NCAR's plans for the construction of a balloon inflation shelter at Palestine. The only way to acomplish this was by deferring other desirable development programs. This decision delayed definitivelly the development of Page as a permanent winter launch site.

The last massive launches there took place in the 1967-68 winter season, while some isolated flights were done at Page there during the 70's decade. After a long hiatus, in 2010 the site was choosen for one of the test flights for the Stratospheric Airship project HI-SENTINEL and later in 2015 to launch another test flight this time by World View enterprises as part of their development effort around near space balloon-based tourism.

Table of balloons launched from Page

DateHourFlight DurationExperimentPayload landing place or cause of the failure
12/8/1962 22 hCOSMIC RAY MEASUREMENTS + TRANSPONDER & TELEMETRY TESTPayload lost
4/9/1964 3 hPHOTOELECTRIC SKYLIGHT POLARIMETER--- No Data ---
1/28/196517:33 mst16hSESAME (Micrometeorite Collector)5 miles E of Encino, New Mexico, US
3/30/19658:45 mst---PHOTOELECTRIC SKYLIGHT POLARIMETER--- No Data ---
2/4/1967 8 h 30 mIONIZATION SPECTROMETER--- No Data ---
2/12/1967 12 h 15 mGAMMA RAY TELESCOPE--- No Data ---
2/17/1967 8 hIONIZATION SPECTROMETER--- No Data ---
2/19/1967 6 h 50 mGRATING SPECTROMETER--- No Data ---
2/21/1967 12 h 20 mINFRARED SKY SURVEYNear Kingman, Arizona, US
2/27/1967 6 h 25 mLUNAR X-RAYS--- No Data ---
3/1/1967 5 h 10 mCOSMIC BACKGROUND RADIATION STUDY--- No Data ---
3/7/1967 ---COSMIC BACKGROUND RADIATION STUDY--- No Data ---
3/8/1967 15 h 45 mUV PHOTO-POLARIMETRY OF STARS AND PLANETS--- No Data ---
11/16/19676:32 mst4 h 45 mX-RAY DETECTORNeedles, California, US
11/18/1967 6h 50mSESAME (Micrometeorite Collector)--- No Data ---
12/7/196719:12 mst9 h 35 mX-RAY DETECTORIn El Paso, Illinois, US
1/12/1968 16 hTECHNOLOGICAL FLIGHT--- No Data ---
1/15/19686:38 mst8 hPROPORTIONAL COUNTERIn Blanding, Utah, US
1/19/1977 F 7 hSKY ANCHOR IFailure of one of the balloons at 50.000 ft
11/10/2010 8 hHISENTINEL (Stratospheric Airship)Monticello, Utah, US
10/24/20157:17 local~ 4 hVANGUARD--- No Data ---