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  •     3/31/2014 We expect to start again with the regular updates of the site during first weeks of April. Thank you so much by the patience.

Red Bull Stratos capsule donated to the Smithsonian - 4/14/2014

Washington D.C.- The capsule from which the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped over New Mexico on October 14, 2012 is joining the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The capsule is featured in the exhibit, "Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space" which will be on display at the museum in Washington, D.C., from April 2 until May 26.

At the conclusion of the exhibit, Baumgartner's capsule, pressure suit and parachute will be housed at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The exhibit Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space will be on view at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC from April 2 - May 26, 2014. Credit: Photo by Eric Long, Smithsonian Institution

"...The gondola that carried Felix Baumgartner 24 miles up into the air, and the pressure suit and parachute that protected him on his way back down, are great additions to the museum's collection of historic air and spacecraft that pushed the limits of technology and tested the human determination to achieve..." said Tom D. Crouch, the Smithsonian's senior curator of aeronautics.

The high altitude mission sponsored by Red Bull, saw a lot of press since beginning of the year. First, in January was part of an exhibition at the National Museum of the US Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio, which also is home to several artifacts from Colonel Joe Kittinger's original gondola space missions; including the ones used in Stargazer and Manhigh programs. Complementarly, the University of Dayton hosted a talk by the Red Bull Stratos team in the Chudd Auditorium on January 24, covering the challenges and successes of the project featuring Art Thompson -Technical Project Director-, Jon Clark -Medical Director- and Colonel Joe Kittinger -Director of Flight Operations And Safety-.

A month later, Baumgartner jump was the central figure of the 30 second commercial add of the GoPro Company (manufacturer of high definition cameras) during the XLVII edition of the SuperBowl. A few days later, the company released the entire video featuring the previously unseen footage of the jump taken by the GoPro cameras mounted in the body of the Austrian parachutist.

Fully one-third of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum collection of aircraft and spacecraft are "firsts" or associated with major historic events, or technological, scientific or cultural achievements. On regard balloons, the museum guard the gondolas of several manned historical manned missions.

One of these is the one used by Nicholas Piantanida in 1966, during his ill-fated attempt to break Kittinger's record, under the civilian Strato-Jump program.

NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) unveiled - 4/9/2014

Pasadena, California.- Today, reporters were invited by NASA to enter into a clean room at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. There they found a saucer shaped vehicle that will be launched under a stratospheric balloon this June for a flight test of the vehicle simulating the conditions that it will encounter during reentry in the thin Mars atmosphere. The test article is part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project aimed to test breakthrough technologies that will enable large payloads to be safely landed on the surface of Mars, or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth. The press was allowed to enter the clean room while the vehicle was being processed for shipping prior to testing next June.

Bellow these lines we can see a picture of the preparations. The tests will be held at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii with the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, from Palestine, Texas in charge of the launch operations.

NASA workers at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wearing clean room

The flights are denominated Supersonic Flight Dynamics Tests or SFDT and will consist in launching onboard a stratospheric balloon the now unveiled "flying saucer" which is powered by rockets that once in the stratosphere will be fired in a ballistic trajectory at supersonic speed to simulate a reentry operation in the thin atmosphere of Mars (see below). The final objective is to demonstrate and evaluate the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) and the Supersonic Ring-Sail (SSRS) parachute technologies.

Proposed flight profile for four high-altitude LDSD tests in Earth's stratosphere. Image Credit:NASA/JPL

Althought it was not mentioned in the press, the project poised quite a challenge for the NASA's balloon program: due to tight safety policies the agency will not allow the balloon launch staff to stay near a payload which carries a large armed rocket motor. This automatically ruled out a conventional dynamic launch to be used in the tests flights. At first there were an idea to build a remote controlled launch vehicle but that concept was discarded in favor of a completely new aproach: a tall tower (near 25 meters high) with a lift to bring the payload to the top at a safe height over the launch ground. The payload will hang from an arm about 5 meters long which will hold it until the balloon lifts it away.

The new system, built by Foremost an engineering firm from Canada was tested during the past balloon launch campaign in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Stay tuned for more news on this in the next weeks.

Unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Super-TIGER instrument in Antarctica - 2/6/2014

McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- A team of scientists from The Washington University, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, was deployed to McMurdo Station in Antarctica in last January to try to recover important elements of an instrument launched there under a stratospheric balloon in December 2012, which after landing in Febraury 2013 remained in the frozen surface of the white continent.

Sadly, the uncooperative weather and the unusual schedule of activities after the brief US Federal Government shutdown in past October made the effort almost fruitless.

The instrument which we refer to is Super-TIGER which stands for Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder and is a heavy cosmic ray experiment developed by the Washington University along with a wide list of collaborating institutions that include the California Institute of Technology, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Minnesota and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The experiment was a four times larger version (hence the "Super" part of the name) of TIGER an experiment flown two times in Antarctica in 2001 and 2003.

The landing spot of the instrument is located 870 km from the south pole at coordinates 82º14.80'S 81º54.72'W a place which with equal amounts of humour and reality the team refers to as "the middle of nowhere". This fact makes the recovery a very complicated operation which can be resumed as follows: the team along with 1 Ton of recovery tools and equipment (to disassemble the payload and pack it up) must be transported fron McMurdo to the Amundsen-Scott station at the South Pole which will serve as hub for the operation. From there they will make the trip to the landing site, but not before parachuting there a team that will set camp at the site and will prepare a landing strip, as well as enough fuel drums to be used by the C-130 heavy aircraft to transport the recovered payload back to the south pole.

After passing by the Long Duration Balloon Facility at Williams Field to pickup some stuff needed for the recovery, the four person team departed to the south Pole in the second week of January. When all appeared to be in the right track for recovery, just waiting for the right weather to make the trip, a chain of events led to the cancellation of the operation.

Due to this season's warmer temperatures, the primary ice-runway at McMurdo (which is the the departure and arrival door for the US Antarctic Program) became too soft for the safe operation of large wheeled heavy planes (C-17 and Airbus A319) used to transport passengers and supplies back to Australia. When this occurs all the inter-continental flight missions are transferred to the LC-130 ski aircraft and the Air Guard planes, which must perform these duties along with their original tasks of Antarctic support. This affected directly the Super-TIGER recovery effort as the LC-130 plane that would support the recovery team, was assigned to transport passengers to and from Antarctica.

At this point, the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) offered to provide between one and three flights in a smaller plane, a Twin Otter, which would allowed to spend up to 3 hours at the site. Althought, the time was not enough for digging out the instrument (which was buried under a full year of snow) and start the delicate process of disassembling it, the team decided to take the chance to make a survey of the instrument's health and to recover the easily removable parts of the structure.

The first trip was performed under perfect weather on January 22, but when they arrived to the landig site, the pilot realized the presence in the sourroundings of large Zastrugi which are sharp irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion, so the plane was unable to land there. The team took from the air, several images of the payload condition and returned to the Amundsen-Scott base.

As a result of this the operation has been rescheduled for the next season and the team returned to the United States. Hopefully without the incidence of another government shutdown, the recovery will took place in the 2014/2015 southern hemisphere summer, with enough time and resources to finally digg-out the Super-TIGER payload from the ice.

Zero to Infinity receives the first space suit for testings - 1/29/2014

Barcelona, Spain.- The spanish firm Zero 2 Infinity (Z2I) that is developing balloon-based technologies to enable cost-efficient access to near-space, announced today in a press release that has received its first Space suit, which was designed by Final Frontier Design (FFD) a company from the United States. This brings Z2I one step closer to start their manned test flights later this year, after performing several unmanned balloon tests of scaled-down versions of their system, from locations in Spain with the support in the balloon launch operations of ISTAR Group.

Nick Moiseev, who led the design of the suit at FFD, used to be a space suit designer for Zvezda, Russia's national space suit supplier. He was responsible for designing the suits for the Buran and those worn by cosmonauts on Mir and on the International Space Station. After participating in the NASA glove design competition together with Ted Southern, they created FFD in New York, to become the main suppliers of comfortable Space suits for the commercial Space industry.

Z2I is planning to use Space suits only during its crewed test program, to qualify the pod and its life support system. Suits are important in the initial phase for safety purposes to protect the pilots in case of depressurization of the cabin. In the long run, on bloon, zero2infinity's commercial vehicle currently under development, passengers will not be required to wear pressurized suits.

Two balloons reached for the first time the mesosphere in India - 1/22/2014

Hyderabad, India.- Less that 20 days apart, scientists of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), made two historical balloon missions which penetrated twice the mesosphere over India. Both flights were performed from the installations of the National Balloon Facility which is located in the outskirts of the city of Hyderabad, in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The stratospheric balloons used for these two missions were identical. They were fabricated using an ultra-thin polyethylene film developed at TIFR called ANTRIX with a thickness of 3.8 microns and had a volume of 60.000 cubic meters.

The lightweight payloads transported in the two missions also were identical. They comprised a single card Tele-Command with integrated electronic timer, a radio transceiver, an Air Traffic Control Transponder with altimeter, a mobile telephony GSM-GPS for balloon tracking, an upward looking video camera and two GPS-Sondes for navigation and measurement of atmospheric parameters like pressure, temperature and humidity. All this was attached to the balloon through a 4.3 meter parachute.

The first balloon (mission HAA-003) was launched on January 7 at 4:02 Indian Standard Time (January 6 at 22:32 according to UTC time). At right can be seen the moment of the inflation. After 2 hours and 9 minutes of ascent the craft reached the float altitude of 51,661 kms, establishing a new national record and allowing India to join the select club of the countries that performed balloon flights into the mesosphere. The other members are the United States and Japan which recently had set a new world altitude record. The flight was terminated at 7:04 local time and the payload was promptly recovered at the town of Husnabad in the Karimnagar district, Andhra Pradesh.

The new Indian record, however, would not last long. The second balloon (mission HAA-004) was launched on January 21 at 4:10 local time and after an ascent of 2 hours and 11 minutes, it reached an altitude of 51,833 kms, beating the record set 14 days before. The flight was terminated at 6:32 local time and the payload landed near the Hakimpet Air Force Station, located 35 kms north of Hyderabad.

These flights were performed in the framework of the High Altitude Balloon Development Project (HAA) whose next step will be to increase the payload capability to 15 kilograms. This tests are planned to be performed during the summer 2014 flight programme.

Thank you so much to Mr. Suneel Kumar Buduru from TIFR by the information kindly provided.

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