Weekly Balloon News #7 - December 2nd. 2022
Recent balloon launches and landings
Another week goes by with no flights of relevance to report. As I said this week on Twitter, the presence of the Loon project that filled our skies with dozens of balloons every week is greatly missed, the likes of which have not been seen since the great USAF projects like Moby Dick in the 60's. On the bright side of the matter, this much "slower" reality is much more manageable for this humble one-man project.
As I reported last week, I finally decided to drop HBAL610 Aerostar Thunderhead from the list of possibly-maybe-God-knows-where-is-if-still-flying. Details of the brief flight -by current company standards- available here.
What's on in the field
This week, representatives of the balloon program of the French special agency CNES were in Brazil, signing a series of protocols of intentions with the authorities of the state of Tocantins, in the center of the country, with the objective to establish in the future a launch base for stratospheric balloons. The meetings were also attended by representatives of the Federal University of Tocantins (UFT) and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB). During the visit, which lasted until November 30, several possible sites for the future base were surveyed.
Stéphane Louvel, head of CNES balloon sector, said that "...Palmas -the capital of state- is a strategic place, because besides being in the center of the country, it is located just below the forest, with a large area both to the east and west available for controlled balloon flight...". But, in my opinion, the key factor is no doubt, that the city is located in the equatorial region, which is of great interest to scientists from around the world who seek to study climate processes in that particular area of the stratosphere. Brazil is practically one of the few countries in the world that has a sufficiently developed infrastructure that would allow studies to be carried out in these latitudes without risking expensive instruments to be lost in dense forest or in the Ocean.
Rodrigo Lonardi from AEB said that "...there is still a long way to go to make it permanent. First we would organize a launch campaign, most probably in the year 2025 or 2026, and from there maybe we can make it permanent at some point. Some other regions have already been studied and Palmas is in first place. There will be some necessary technical studies and negotiation with the authorities in Tocantins..."
Historically the CNES has had a close collaboration with the Brazilian aerospace agencies that have materialized in countless stratospheric balloon launch campaigns throughout the country. Most of them have been performed using the extensively developed airport infrastructure of the country, especially in the regional airports segment.
In that sense, there are several facilities in the region near Palmas, that could serve for the activities planned by CNES. Despite the fact that no specific names were disclosed after a brief survey I've made trying to make a good balance between air traffic, location and infrastructure, I have come to the conclusion that a great candidate to host the future base could be Porto Nacional Airport, located about 48 kms south of Palmas.
Another two sites are also in the table for now. The one proposed by AEB in Pau do Ferros, located closer to the Atlantic Ocean in Rio Grande do Norte state, and Balsas another site in consideration by CNES in the Maranhão state.
Since the early days of scientific ballooning we have seen all sorts of things being "dropped" from the stratosphere. From missiles, aerodynamic planes and models of space probes, to complex instruments for measuring atmospheric components or micro-gravity experiments. We have seen chicken sandwiches, chairs and lamps fly into nearby space, even a cell phone reproducing images from the stratosphere that we ourselves sent from our device on the ground. But, even in the 21st century, the world was not yet ready to see the fall from the stratosphere... of an egg. An egg I said?. Yes, an egg.
That seems to be the case for a recent balloon-based stunt performed by Mark Rober, former NASA engineer and co-founder of Crunch Labs a popular STEM-oriented website. Operations were performed by Night Crew Labs a California-based aerospace engineering firm which worked in the past with balloons for projects ranging from NOAA to Discovery Channel and Adam Savage of Myth Busters fame.
Did the egg survived the ride? ... well ... find out for yourself in this 26-minute video available on YouTube.
Iwatani Giken Co., a startup company from Hokkaido, Japan announced this week a series of succesfull test flights of their manned balloon system. The target altitude of the test on November 18 was 102.3 meters. The altitude seems not be so impressive, but the tests are part of the goal of the company to offer free manned balloon flights in the near future.
The manned series were preceded by unmanned flights for checking equipment. A total of three ascensions were made to altitudes ranging from 93 to 103 meters. As we can see in the images at right, both balloon and gondola have an unconventional shape for what we are used to seeing in this activity.
The company also announced that during the upcoming Tokyo Space Business Exhibition to be held on December 12-16 in the Tokyo-Japanese Bridge area will be unveiled the new design of a two seat luxury pressurized cabin aimed to offer near-space rides starting the next year.
Balloon image of the day
Since April 2021, I have published through my Twitter account (@stratoballoon) -at first daily and then more spaced out- a series of images from my archives that reflect important or curious moments in the history of scientific ballooning. Now, every week I will be including some of those posts in this newsletter. Those who want to see more similar content can do so by exploring the hashtag #BalloonImageOfTheDay
New contents in StratoCat
This week, I was focused in different areas.
Something to which I was indebted for a long time is completing the flight reports of the most important manned balloon missions in history. This week it was the turn of the StratoLab project, more specifically the 1958 flight carried out by the Pilot Malcolm Ross (the soul of the project without a doubt) and the astronomer Alfred Mikesell.
In more recent events I also completed some of the missions carried out by World View with their Tycho 20 platform. As you may have guessed, the modular multi-purpose gondola aimed to provide researchers with stratospheric access to make new discoveries, was named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Missions were performed from Roswell (NM) in 2014, Pinal Airpark (AZ) in 2015, and twice in 2019 over Arizona from Spaceport Tucson and St. Jhons.
Finally, I've also published two reports about missions performed by Near Space Corporation from its launch facility in Tillamook (OR): a free flight test of the ARES Mars Plane for NASA and a mission to evaluate a system to download data from animal tag sensors.
As usual, all the flight reports are full of technical details, pictures -when available- and external references on peer-reviewed papers, freely available thanks to Sci-Hub and the open access community.
See you in seven days.
Balloons in flight (updated 2-Dec-2022 )
|Launched from||In flight since||Payload or experiment||Last known status|
| NO BALLOONS IN FLIGHT AT THE MOMENT |
Last completed balloon flights (updated 2-Dec-2022 )