Presenting a new section of the website - 5/6/2013
Today is an honor for me in StratoCat present a new section on this website, whose idea was present from the beginning of the project: the creation of Stratopedia, an encyclopedia on topics related to the scientific ballooning.
The new initiative will serve to offer a listing and a brief overview of those individuals, organizations and programs that contributed to some extent to the development of scientific ballooning, or were part of it.
This will include not only those people directly involved in the field, but also those scientists whom were protagonists of important advances in science through the use of balloons.
Additionally, it will offer general information on the most important balloon-borne experiments as well explanations in simple terms of technical elements or basic concepts used in ballooning that appear repeatedly throughout the various articles and news published on this website.
My attempt to refer to this initiative as "balloon encyclopedia" might sound pretentious, but the idea behind the effort is to create a repository that could cover all elements able to be classified and explained in this field, hence the term.
Of course, some topics are so broad or the lives of the people we write about are so rich that in honor of brevity, the effort will be focused on those aspects directly related to the scientific ballooning.
Therefore, whenever possible, there will be links to other reference sources for you to further deepen each topic.
Finally, note that as occurs in almost every section of this website, this Stratopedia is a project in constant development, which begins with a few entries (in no particular order of importance) and that we hope to complete and expand gradually, as time allows.
As allways, suggestions, contributions, corrections and clarifications will be very appreciated.
Best regards and enjoy it.
A balloon mission to observe the ISON comet - 4/26/2013
Laurel, Maryland A new balloon-borne mission whose inception took place just three months ago in last January, currently is amidst a frantic race against time to complete the construction of the instrument to fly in November from NASA's Balloon Launch Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The objective of the initiative is to perform scientific observations of ISON the so called "comet of the century" from a privileged point above the Earth's atmosphere using a stabilized telescope.
The project's name Balloon Rapid Response for ISON or BRRISON for short, quite reflects the rush behind the initiative.
The ISON comet (which can be seen at right in an image taken recently by the Hubble telescope) was first discovered in September 2012 by Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, and since has been making headlines around the world due to the fact that Astronomers say that it could shine as brightly as the full moon when it makes its closest pass by the sun in late November.
The project to observe it using a balloon-borne instrument is being sponsored by NASA, the Applied Physics Laboratory of the John Hopkins University (JHU-APL) and the Southwest Research Institute of New Mexico.
To save precious developmental time, the telescope mount and the coarse pointing system of the instrument will be inherited from the Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory also developed at JHU-APL wich performed one engineering flight in 2009 over New Mexico and a long duration mission over Antarctica in 2012. The gondola frame and other components, instead, will be specially built for BRRISON but will be transferable to a future planetary astronomy platform being in study by the scientific community. Althought STO's telescope aperture is merely 80 centimeters of diameter, the future platform will allow to incorporate a telescope larger than 1 meter of diameter.
The observational window to perform the BRRISON flight spans for a month between September 11 and November 12, 2013, due to the fact that the main scientific objective is to perform the observations before the comet reaches the perihelion (closest point to the sun). Depending on the expected duration of the balloon flight -24 hours at a mean altitude of 120.000 ft.- other celestial targets may also be observed, such as Asteroid Elektra, Comet Encke and two bright double stars in the handle of the Big Dipper constellation.
In declarations to the press, Dr. Andrew F.Cheng, BRRISON's principal investigator and chief scientist in the Space Department at JHU-APL said that the team faces some challenges, specialy on matters of thermal control and the pointing accuracy of science-gathering instruments in the gondola "...BRRISON is absolutely unique in terms of what we're going to measure at the comet. There's nothing else that can do it right now..." Cheng said. The observations will be made using infrared and near ultraviolet/visible imaging gear that will allow to measure the Carbon dioxide to water ratio and to trace the presence of hydroxyl fragments in the comet. "...There are space telescopes, but none of them happen to be in the right place at the right time ... and there isn't enough time to build something new. With a balloon, it's doable..."
This ability of balloons to provide a "quick response" scientific platform -compared to space experiments or even small satellites- it's unique to them and will play a key role to maintain it's use in the astronomical scientific community. Althought, the response of the BRRISON team to the opportunity that the comet offered was really fast, it was not the first time that we see such a reaction.
Back in the late 80's, when the SN1987A supernova exploded in the southern hemisphere sky, several groups were eager to obtain data on the earlier phases of the event, among them where scientists of the University of Florida, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They have an instrument denominated GRAD (Gamma Ray Advanced Detector) which was originaly built to fly in the Space Shuttle. Once the Supernova exploded they can't launch it because the Challenger accident, but they managed to adapt the detector to a balloon platform in record time, and with support of the Balloon Group of the US Air Force then based on the Holloman Air Force Base and the National Science Foundation, launched it from Antarctica in 1988 thus performing the first launch of a large balloon in the White Continent.
Returning to BRRISON, a version that we could neither confirm nor deny at the time of this writing is that the mission could made use of the new Super Pressure Balloon (formerly the Ultra Long Duration Balloon project) which next June NASA will be testing on a transatlantic flight from Sweden to Canada.
We will keep you informed of the ongoings of the BRRISON project. Stay tuned!
Otto C. Winzen Lifetime Achievement Award - 4/1/2013
Danny R.J. Ball, site manager for NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), has been awarded the Otto C. Winzen Lifetime Achievement Award.
This biennially distinction is given to those who made outstanding contributions and achievements in the advancement of free flight balloon systems or related technologies by the prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. As its name implies is presented in memory of Otto C. Winzen, the founder of Winzen Research Inc. and one of the key figures in the development of the scientific ballooning.
According to the press release published today, Ball was presented the award for championing groundbreaking advancements in stratospheric ballooning by expanding worldwide launch opportunities, and fostering state of the art improvements in equipment and operations.
"...This award is rarely given to people directly involved in operational support such as CSBF. Normally it goes to equally deserving academics..." Ball said. "...The award validates all of us at CSBF who have spent our careers down where the rubber meets the road in supporting scientific research..."
Ball graduated from St. Louis University in 1971 with a bachelor's of atmospheric science and developed a 33-year career at CSBF working as staff meteorologist, head of operations and site manager in support of NASA's scientific balloon program.
Fournier will try his stratospheric jump in May...? - 3/27/2013
Marseille, France.- More decided than ever, Michel Fournier the only person that in the last 15 years, was ever close to make an attempt to break the records that were reclaimed last year by Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos project, is back on track with his "Big Jump" effort.
The 68 years old French paratrooper, in declarations to the newspaper "La Provence" in last febraury affirmed that "...I want to jump from over 40.000 meters...". The new jump attempt will be carried out from the North Battleford airport in Saskatchewan, Canada.
With a revamped web site and new sponsorship -that includes a new balloon manufactured in the United States-, next May will hopefully see the veteran former military parachutist ascending throught the stratosphere to try to take the last standing record that was not broken by Felix Baumgartner in his last jump: the longest free fall that still belongs to Joe Kittinger.
Recently, he and his feat were featured by the French TV on the Scientific Program "E=M6" hosted by Mac Lesggy. The program included participation of the former European Astronaut Jean-François Clervoy whom is the mentor of the French parachutist in his attempt to break the longest free-fall mark.
Below you can see the video of the program originally aired on March 3th (in French).
The road that Fournier took to achieve his stratospheric goal definitely is not a paved one. After shifting in 2000 their original plan of making the jump in his own country, to the open and unpopulated plains of Canada, he found several big stones to deal with. In 2002 an inflation tube detached from the balloon and rendered it unusable, next year at inflation during the second attempt the balloon top ripped off with no spare bag at hand. During the third attempt in 2008 Michel saw his balloon detached from the capsule while he was waiting to start his stratospheric climb and two years later at the same point of the operations his personal parachute deployed spontanoeusly inside the capsule forced to abort one more time.
Is clear now that Fournier's motivation is still high: "...I'm in great shape. The age can do nothing against the passion of life...". But besides this, the bitter moment of witnessing his Austrian colleague taking his highest aspiration in life, is something omnipresent in every TV apparition or interview by the press: "...I have a deep respect for what he did but he had a camera on him. I will be full of sensors to advance the science...", polemicizes the veteran skydiver.
Let's see in a few months if this time is the right one for Michel. We really hope so.
Stay tuned !.
BAMED 2 balloon campaign concluded in southern France - 3/16/2013
Candillargues, France.- As a continuation of the efforts made during the end of 2012 to understand the complex hydrological cycle in the Mediterranean, a team that included staff from CNES, LMD, INSU and Meteo France was deployed at the end of January to the Montpellier-Candillargues airport in the southern shore of France, to perform small balloon launches in the framework of the BAMED (Balloons over the Mediterranean sea) campaign.
The campaign was part of the HYMEX scientific program aimed to obtain a better understanding, quantification and modelling of the hydrological cycle in the Mediterranean, with emphasis on the predictability and evolution of extreme weather events, inter-annual to decadal variability of the Mediterranean coupled system, and associated trends in the context of global change.
As occured with the first part of the campaign the French team is using the so called Boundary Layer Pressurized Balloons which are made in France by ZODIAC Int. under CNES supervision, and have a diameter of 2.5 meters. As being balloons of the superpressure kind (closed ones) they maintains a constant volume during the entire flight, floating at a nearly constant density level. The balloons are inflated with Helium at a nominal pressure of 120 hPa and released by hand. In flight they can obtain several meteorological parameters (pressure, temperature, humidity, etc.) as well location data through a GPS system.
The site was chosen to allow the balloons to perform North~South crossings of the Mediterranean Sea, while they are pushed by the Tramontane (N) or Mistral (NW) floating in the boundary layer at a height of 5.500 ft. The scientists of the project are specially interested to obtain data from the convergence zone of the continental shelf and the deep seas region. During the campaign is expected to perform long flights, so special clearances where obtained from the aerial authorities of Spain and Italy.
The first balloon of the campaign was launched on Febraury 7th, while the last one was released on March 14th, totalizing 16 succesful flights in the two months that endured the effort. Some of the small balloons ended their trips near Sardignia but a few ones managed to cross the entire Mediterranean sea reaching the African coast.
The people of the LMD published during the deployment a detailed weblog that recorded the day to day operations. Also is available the complete list of balloons launched and their routes.