Weekly Balloon News #6 - November 24th 2022

Recent balloon launches and landings

Again this week anything to report here. I will give Aerostar's HBAL610 -the only balloon presumably in flight- another week before dropping it from the "In flight" list. In the past, I've experienced long blank periods with Aerostar balloons in excursions to exotic areas off the ADS-B coverage: when I thought that their flight was over, all the sudden the balloon appeared for a brief period of time close to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. That was occured with HBAL 484, with HBAL 490 or HBAL 582 just to mention the three most recent examples.

Although it is not a recent "landing", this week I came across a curious incident that occurred in the state of Oregon at the end of August and that finished explaining a curious and short flight of a Near Space Corporation (NSC) balloon from which I reported in the first issue of this newsletter.

NSC launched a balloon on August 31 from their facility -known as the Johnson Near Space Center- in Tillamook but merely an hour after the balloon was back on ground or to be more precise on water. Probable due to a malfunction the balloon returned to earth and ended in the Columbia River not so far from the city of Scappoose in Columbia County. I was able to locate even a video of the very moment on which the gas bag is plumeting to the water freaking out some families that were enjoying a calm beach day. The balloon was recovered that same day in a joint effort between the Scappoose Fire District, Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue, Sauvie Island Fire District and the U.S. Coast Guard. An account of the incident can be readed in the St. Helens Chronicle website.

What's on in the field

The restrictions in arrivals from the continent to McMurdo station in Antarctica that the National Science Foundation impossed to stop the COVID-19 outbreak that started in late October, are relaxing a bit. This allows more scientists to arrive at the station for their research tasks during the upcoming austral summer. While the delay wasn't huge, it was long enough to affect NASA's balloon program plans for the season.

This week, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility updated their launch schedule for the 2022/2023 long duration balloon campaign, and dropped from the list two of the three flights planned. The only one remaining is the SPIDER experiment, designed to search for primordial gravity waves imprinted on the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The two other missions were meant to transport two small scientific experiments under a 60 million cubic feet balloon, in what woould be an epic first with the largest balloon ever flown over the continent. The experiments that will now must wait their turn to fly were BOOMS, or Balloon Observation of Microburst Scales, designed at Montana State University to observe flashes of X-ray light that sporadically appear in the polar atmosphere and AESOP-Lite a magnetic spectrometer developed at University of Delaware, to search for the origin of low-energy in the electron spectrum between 10-300 MeV.

And by the way, don't forget to visit from time to time the three main sources for fresh news from the ice this season: SPIDER's tweeter account, the website of Elle Shaw, physics PhD student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign participating of the launch campaign and the revived blog of Jeff Filippini, a cosmologist from the University of Illinois and member of the team that also will be reporting from the ice.

This week an article appeared in the Washington Post with the title What are your passenger rights in space?. The piece wrote by Christopher Elliott explore the grey zones of the space tourism boom and specially the lack of oversight on how space flight companies handle delays, cancellations and refunds.

While the article deals primarily with space tourism, Spaces Perspectives, the Florida-based company that plans to offer balloon rides into near space, is also mentioned. After some research the author affirms that "The (Space Perspectives) contract does not address refunds for any failure to operate a flight. However, its flight reservations form says it offers no warranty to commence commercial operations of its vehicles within any time frame, "or even at all". In this sense, Jane Poynter, the CEO of the company sayd that they are finalizing the details of its terms and conditions for commercial flights starting in late 2024. It plans to include policies for canceled flights, last-minute passenger opt-outs and rescheduling.

She added that "...Explorers can expect to see these posted on our website and given to them individually well prior to providing their final payments...". The company is planning to offer six-hours stratospheric trips at $125,000 the seat starting in late 2024.

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 able to complete the balloon launch reports from a single, but important, balloon launch campaign carried out in 1961 in India.

From February to April that year, scientists from India and the United States participated in a cooperative field operation at Hyderabad , India, to perform an extended series of high-altitude balloon flights carrying a variety of scientific instruments to probe the tropical stratosphere. Known as the Joint Indo-US Balloon Flight Program - 1961 the project was a remarkably successful example of scientific cooperation between the two countries. Mutual interest, techniques, instrumentation, facilities, and personnel were exchanged and shared to accomplish a common purpose: the extension of studies on cosmic-ray intensities, radioactive and natural aerosol distribution, wind circulation patterns, and other atmospheric parameters to the equatorial stratosphere.

The instruments flown ranged from Nuclei Counters and Sub-Micron Aerosol Collectors to heavy emulsion stacks to study cosmic radiation.

The table below contains links to the reports of all the balloon flights launched and managed by the United States during the campaign. All those flights were launched from the Begupmet Aerodrome in Secunderabad.

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 Begumpet1961/4/25HEAVY LOAD EMULSION STACK28 h 15 m
 Begumpet1961/4/21HIGH ALTITUDE EMULSION STACK1 h 18 m
 Begumpet1961/4/20AFCRL LARGE IMPACTOR4 h 51 m
 Begumpet1961/4/18AFCRL LARGE IMPACTOR4 h 31 m
 Begumpet1961/4/16HEAVY LOAD EMULSION STACK5 h 34 m
 Begumpet1961/4/13AFCRL LARGE IMPACTOR4 h 2 m
 Begumpet1961/4/11AFCRL LARGE IMPACTOR10 m
 Begumpet1961/4/8SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)4 h 53 m
 Begumpet1961/4/7SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)4 h 32 m
 Begumpet1961/4/6SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)4 h 59 m
 Begumpet1961/4/5SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)3 h 32 m
 Begumpet1961/4/4AFCRL SMALL IMPACTOR3 h 51 m
 Begumpet1961/4/3AITKEN NUCLEI COUNTER4 h 23 m
 Begumpet1961/3/31AFCRL SMALL IMPACTOR4 h
 Begumpet1961/3/29AITKEN NUCLEI COUNTER2 h 33 m
 Begumpet1961/3/28AFCRL SMALL IMPACTOR3 h 50 m
 Begumpet1961/3/27AITKEN NUCLEI COUNTER4 h 39 m
 Begumpet1961/3/24AFCRL SMALL IMPACTOR5 h
 Begumpet1961/3/23AITKEN NUCLEI COUNTER2 h 32 m
 Begumpet1961/3/22SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)4 h 41 m
 Begumpet1961/3/18SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)2 h 55 m
 Begumpet1961/3/16SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)2 h 58 m
 Begumpet1961/3/14SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)6 h 16 m
 Begumpet1961/3/13SMAC (Sub-Micron Aerosol Collector)4 h 17 m

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 24-Nov-2022 )

Launched fromIn flight sincePayload or experimentLast known status
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)10/18/2022THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 610STATUS UNKNOWN --> Last Known Position

Last completed balloon flights (updated 24-Nov-2022 )

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 Paso Robles (CA)2022/11/3THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61317 h
 Roswell (NM)2022/10/30SCEYE - STRATOSPHERIC AIRSHIP4 h 30 m
 Paso Robles (CA)2022/10/27THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61229 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/10/20THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61149 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/10/18THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6095 d 5 h
 Madras Muni. (OR)2022/10/12PAYLOAD UNKNOWN2 h
 Madras Muni. (OR)2022/10/7PAYLOAD UNKNOWN---
 Dachaidan2022/10/4SOLAR CORONAGRAPH---
 Dachaidan2022/10/2SOLAR CELL CALIBRATION2 h
 Dachaidan2022/9/30HEAVY PAYLOAD TEST2 h 24 m
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/9/28THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 608~ 8 d
 Dachaidan2022/9/28MULTI-INSTRUMENTAL PLATFORM12 h 38 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/28PICTURE-C (Planetary Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Recoverable Experiment - Coronagraph)19 h 20 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/22TINMAN (ThermalIzed Neutron MeAsuremeNt experiment)7 h 30 m
 Santa Fe County (NM)2022/9/10THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6071 h
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/8HASP 2022 (High Altitude Student Platform)21 h 7 m
 ESRANGE2022/9/7HEMERA ZPB202211 h 30 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/7BALBOA (BALloon-Based Observations for sunlit Aurora)8 h 45 m
 Tillamook (OR)2022/8/31PAYLOAD UNKNOWN8 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/25THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 60526 d 6 h 55 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/8/25MULLENAX TEST FLIGHT21 h
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/23HEMERA 315 h 10 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/8/23SALTER TEST FLIGHT5 h
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/22IFTS18 h 50 m
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/17SOLAR9 h 28 m
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/17THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 604~ 44 d
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/13THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6031 d 9 h 45 m
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/12CALASET13 h 14 m
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/4RAVEN AEROSTAR FLIGHT 6028 h

Project Grab-Bag

April 7, 2022.- New entry in Stratopedia our somewhat forgotten humble project of a scientific balloon encyclopedia.

On this update let's know about Grab-Bag or how to spy on the Soviet nuclear program from home. The complete history and launch record of the first balloon-borne continuous sampling program of radioactive debris in the stratosphere carried out in the 50's decade.

StratoCat shift to "Ko-fi" for funding

December 5, 2021.- Recently, I've joined a crowdfunding website to get some help to keep this website up and running. Sadly, they changed almost overnight their payment options ruling out the only one system available in my country. However, recently I've discovered and moved to Ko-fi a way much better initiative. Take a minute and learn how you can collaborate with this project by simply buying a coffee.

The road to the biggest jumps

So long time passed since 2012, when I've published the interactive timeline of the history of all the efforts that led to the succesful completion of Felix Baumgartner's jump under the Red Bull Stratos project. Now I've added more information, including the incredible history behind Alan Eustace and project Stratex.

Latest publications

  • March, 5 2020

    The Stratospheric Report #07

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report: HAPS Alliance unveiled; latest news from Project Loon including the usual up's and down's of the fleet; another setback for World View with the sudden termination of it's latest stratollite mission; closing of the NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica while preparing for the next mission in New Zealand; wrapping up of the Strateole 2 campaign ; a review of the activity deployed by Raven Aerostar this month and finally some balloon-related news in brief.

  • January, 18 2020

    The Stratospheric Report #06

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report we discuss latest developments in NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica including the ill fated flight of the BLAST telescope; the sunk in the Atlantic of World View's Gryphon 16 stratollite mission; first round the world traverse of Strateole 2 balloons; latest flights by Raven Aerostar plus a review of what we know so far about Thunderhead balloon systems and finally the usual update on Project Loon including latest launches, landings and actual whereabouts of the balloon fleet.

  • December, 27 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #05

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find: updates on Project Loon including a new endurance record, overflight permission recently granted by Uganda's government, latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; recent flights and new mark of World View's Stratollites; latests flight activity of Raven Aerostar; current status of Strateole 2 balloons in flight and first launch of NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica.

  • December, 10 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #04

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual update on Project Loon including some changes in leadership at Alphabet, advances on flight infrastructure at Winnemucca (NV), latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; most recent flight activity of Raven Aerostar; the completing of the Strateole 2 campaign in Seychelles Islands and first glimpse to NASA's balloon launch campaign in Antarctica.

  • November, 24 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #03

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual update on Project Loon including new contract to provide internet service in Peru, latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; most recent flight activity of Raven Aerostar and World View Enterprises; the first three balloon launches for Strateole 2 campaign in Seychelles Islands; a misterious balloon mission by Zero to Infinity in Spain and finally some interesting balloon-related publications.

  • November, 5 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #02

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual ups & downs of Project Loon balloons; some interesting -and accidented- activity of their cousins of Raven Aerostar; good news to World View about dismissed appeal on lawsuit and bad ones with a failed Stratollite flight; two balloon launches in Sweden full of student payloads; the Strateole 2 campaign starting in the Seychelles Islands, upcoming balloon-based tests for ExoMars parachutes in the US and finally some interesting balloon-related publications.

  • October, 21 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #01

    After almost a year without any actualization of this website, is with great pride that today I'm introducing the first edition of The Stratospheric Report a fortnightly news bulletin about scientific and commercial ballooning.

    From this pages every 15 days (or so) I will try to keep you informed of the current ongoings in the field of scientific and commercial ballooning: launches and landings, campaigns, relevant news from companies in the sector, conferences, publications and much more.

  • October, 20 2018

    Six balloon launch campaigns in a nutshell

    Between June and October 2018, six launch campaigns of stratospheric balloons were performed worldwide. Twenty succesful balloon missions were made, for the benefit of astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric sciences, STEM training of students and technology advance. The scientific effort involved three transatlantic balloon flights from Sweden to Canada, a long duration arctic balloon mission from Svalbard to Canada, two flights over Texas, five missions in Ontario and three in Alberta, Canada, eight launches over New Mexico, and two short duration missions in Sweden...

  • June, 10 2018

    SuperBIT flight or the dream of any balloon scientist

    Palestine, Texas.- Launched at first try, undisturbed flight at altitude by hours, an instrument working as expected, and then landing it with minor damage in an unpopulated zone but with a nearby road for an easy recovery, is what I call a picture perfect balloon mission. I am not referring to some ideal scenario taken from some training manual of any agency's balloon program, but what happened from beginning to end with the SuperBIT telescope flight launched a few days ago from Palestine, Texas...

  • May, 27 2018

    Transatlantic balloon launch campaign from Sweden to Canada

    Kiruna, Sweden.- The NASA balloon program returned to Sweden to perform a balloon launch campaign from the facilities of the European Space Range (ESRANGE), near Kiruna, very close to Arctic polar circle. The missions to be performed during May and June, will consist in trans-atlantic flights from Sweden to Canada with a mean duration of 4 to 5 days and the recovery in the Nunavut territory. This flight scheme was inaugurated by NASA in 2005...

  • May, 6 2018

    The present and future of the French balloon program

    To know more about the present and future of the French Balloon program I've made a brief interview to Stéphane Louvel, mission manager of the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) stratospheric balloon campaigns all over the world.

    Past and upcoming campaigns, new technological developments and the current challenges of French and European balloon activities, are among the topics discussed with him...

  • May, 2 2018

    Second balloon launch in Australian campaign

    Alice Springs, Australia.- The second balloon of the 2018 launch campaign that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is carrying out since late March in Australia, was completed successfully on April 26.

    The launch was carried out at 6:33 local time and after an ascent phase of near two hours, the balloon reached a float altitude about 38 km...

  • April, 20 2018

    Japanese balloon launch campaign in Australia

    Alice Springs, Australia.- Dozens of surprised inhabitants watched on April 7, the slow drift in the clean autumn skies of a very brilliant star, wondering what it was. It was not of extraterretrial origin, but its mission was in some manner related to the deep realms of space.

    The silver orb that mesmerized the ocasional sighters was in fact a huge stratospheric balloon launched early in the morning that day from the Alice Springs Airport as part of a balloon launch campaign by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)...

  • January 19 2018

    Antarctic balloon launch campaign ends without flights

    McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- The weather did it again. The Nemesis of NASA's balloon program during the campaigns developed last year, does not seem willing to resign its role in the new year that just started.

    After sixteen attempts performed from December 8th to January 14th, the team of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of the operation of the SuperTIGER instrument, finally communicated via social media that the campaign was called off. The instrument will be put in storage at McMurdo during winter to be hopefully launched next summer...

  • December 29 2017

    Winter night balloon test in the Arctic

    Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands.- In the middle of the winter polar night a team of the ISTAR Group a balloon launch company based in Sisters, Oregon, United Sates gathered along with people from the Università di Roma - La Sapienza an other institutions from Italy and Russia to launch a stratospheric balloon from the facilities of the International Airport of Longyearbyen, located in the central part of the Spitzbergen Island, the largest one of the Svalbard archipelago.

    The goal of the mission was to test the behaviour of balloon systems during a long duration flight in the cold night of the Arctic winter...

  • December 24 2017

    World View balloon explodes during a test outside Tucson, Arizona

    Spaceport Tucson, Arizona.- The calm of the southern part of the city of Tucson, Arizona, was suddenly altered in the afternoon on December 19, 2017 by a loud explosion originated in the balloon launch facility built by World View Enterprises (WVE), 6 miles south from the center of the city.

    The incident occured while a static balloon test was underway in the launch pad. No details were provided on the nature of the test or the identity of the customer who requested the test.

  • November 1 2017

    PIPER flight closes NASA balloon launch campaign in New Mexico

    Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- 2017 will be remembered in the annals of NASA's scientific balloon program as a particularly problematic year.

    Following the loss of the EUSO-SPB balloon in the Pacific in May and the free-fall incident which ended with the destruction of the BETTII telescope in June, the agency's fall campaign held each year at the Scientific Balloon Flight Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, came to an end with only two flights performed of the seven planned, after suffering the worst weather conditions in many years...

  • September 5 2017

    First balloon launch of NASA fall campaign in New Mexico

    Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- The first flight of NASA's Fall balloon launch campaign was performed yesterday, as mission 680N from the Scientific Balloon Flight Facility that the agency maintains inside the boundaries of the Fort Sumner Municipal Airport, in New Mexico.

    The purpose of the flight was to transport a series of experiments as part of the High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) program which every year since 2006 include up to twelve student payloads in a stratospheric balloon launched by NASA with flight durations of 15 to 20 hours...

  • August 11 2017

    JAXA closes its balloon launch campaign for this year

    Taiki, Hokkaido, Japan.- The balloon launch campaign started on June 5th by the the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) -part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) since 2003- which was being carried out at the Taiki Aerospace Research Field (TARF) in Hokkaido, has been called off.

    In a press release published by ISAS in their Japanese language website in August 8th, the agency reports that were performed two succesful missions from the four originally planned for the campaign, and one attempt to launch a third one aborted during inflation...

  • August 5 2017

    First images of the BETTII remains after the free-fall accident

    Palestine, Texas.- A few days ago, on the same facebook page where we learned about the unfortunated accident suffered by the Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry (BETTII) past June, were published the first public images of the debris of the instrument after experiencing a free-fall from an altitude of 135.000 ft.

    The images show nothing more than a pile of tubes, electronics, and bend metal parts of the instrument...

  • June 24 2017

    BETTII twin interferometer destroyed in free fall incident over Texas

    Palestine, Texas.- The first balloon mission of the NASA summer balloon launch campaign being carried out from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, located in the outskirts of the city of Palestine, Texas, ended in the worst way.

    Accordingly to an entry published a few hours after by the BETTII team on its facebook page and later by NASA on its website, at the end of the flight, the payload was separated from the balloon following the standard procedure, when due to yet unknown reasons, the instrument separated from the parachute and free fell from an altitude of 135.000 feet, in west Texas...

  • June 8 2017

    NASA summer balloon campaign from Palestine base

    Palestine, Texas.- As long as the weather cooperates, while I'm writing this lines probably would be a rush of activity at the most famous NASA balloon base, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, located in the outskirts of the city of Palestine, Texas.

    The activity is part of the Summer balloon launch campaign at the base, which in 2016 returned to the launch activity after a hiatus of near 9 years. This year's campaign will involve the launch of three payloads...

  • June 3 2017

    GENETRIX spy balloon program data published in StratoCat

    After a six month work and a search that endured almost 10 years, I'm publishing today in StratoCat for the first time an extensive and comprehensive bulk of information about a secret program carried out by the US Air Force and other agencies to obtain strategic reconnaisance of the Soviet Union and their allies.

    GENETRIX, was a secret program started in 1950 and executed in 1956 by the United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) and other agencies, under the cover of a meteorological and scientific effort. However, the real objective was to obtain photographic reconnaissance of the Soviet Union using high resolution cameras transported by stratospheric balloons riding the jet stream...