Purpose of the flight and payload description
The objective of the flight was to test the Micro-Instrumentation Package (MIP) a compact telemetry system for use on lightweight balloon missions launched by NASA.
The (MIP) has been developed since 2005 as a lightweight, cost effective, modular, low power, reusable command and control system. It also satisfies all FAA and NASA requirements for ballooning. This lightweight system enable small payload missions to be flown by NASA.
The MIP provides uplink and downlink communications, an interface to the science, housekeeping information including global positioning system (GPS) position, and relays. Instead of a power-hungry microprocessor, the MIP's central consists of a microcontroller. Microcontrollers are lower power, easily programmed, and are cheap. For uplink and downlink telemetry, the MIP uses an serial transceiver in case of conventional flights (Line of Sight system or LOS) and an Iridium unit for longer flights (Over the Horizon or OTH). A relay deck is also included for powering subsystems and for flight termination. Furthermore, the scientific experiment onboard is able to interface to the MIP through a serial connection, although the data rates for the science interface will be limited compared to those of standard telemetry support packages. Overall, the MIP provides the basic necessities for the safe operation of a balloon flight without the weight and the expense of the current CSBF telemetry support packages.
There are three configurations: Backup Navigation, Micro-SIP, and Pathfinder. Depending on the flight requirements, the appropriate configuration can be used. In addition, a solar power system can be added for longer duration flights. During the qualification phase which started in 2006, the MIP has been flown on test flights of rubber balloons, piggyback on science flights, and qualified with dedicated test flights like this one.
Details of the balloon flight
Balloon launched on: 3/30/2008 at 14:57
Launch site: Scientific Flight Balloon Facility, Fort Sumner, (NM), US
Balloon launched by: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Zero Pressure Balloon
Flight identification number: 580NT
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 3/30/2008 at 16:29
Balloon flight duration (F: time at float only, otherwise total flight time in d:days / h:hours or m:minutes - ): 2 h 20 m
Landing site: Balloon failure. Landing 3 miles NW of Hereford, Texas, US
This was meant the final flight qualification mission for the system. The flight was launched on March 30, 2008 at 14:58 UTC, from the NASA balloon base in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. However after a nominal ascent phase and near to reach the float altitude, the balloon burst while ascending at 107.000 ft. An automatic onboard system detected the failure and terminated the flight at once. Minutes later, the payload landed in good shape near Hereford, Texas.
Aside the balloon failure, the MIP testing objectives were met both in ascent and descent, nevertheless it was needed another balloon flight to complete the qualification phase which took place on April 13, that same year.