- 1/10/2014 Currently in Antarctica a team from the Washington University is working to recover the SUPER-TIGER instrument left on the ice from the 2012/2013 NASA balloon launch campaign.
- 1/4/2014 As occured in 2013, the first balloon launch of the year was performed by the Darmouth college team participating of the BARREL campaign. It was released from the Halley Research Station in Antarctica.
- 1/9/2014 India performed on January 8th, the highest stratospheric balloon flight of their history launching a 60.000 m3 volume balloon in the mesosphere to an altitude of 51.5 km.
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.
BARREL campaign starts - 12/31/2013
SANAE and Halley Stations, Antarctica.- With the arrival in mid December of the teams from Darmouth College to the two Antactic Stations that will be serve as launch bases for the balloon campaign, it's now officially started the BARREL (Balloon Array for RBSP Relativistic Electron Losses) campaign. The initiative is aimed to study Earth's Radiation Belts using instrumented balloons flying in the polar vortex over Antarctica.
According to the news published almost daily by the BARRELians on his official blog Relativistic Balloons, the first team to arrive was the one dettached to the British Halley Research Station on December 19, whom started almost immediately to work on the payloads to get them flight ready.
The second team, bound for the South African Antarctic Program's SANAE IV station in Vesleskarvet was stuck in Novolaverevskaya (the Russian base on which both teams flew into from Southafrica)until December 23 when, once the bad weather cleared, they finally reached their destination.
The first launch of the campaign nomenclated as 2T took place from Halley on December 27 at 12:08 utc, and the balloon reached float altitude of 38 km two hours later. At left can be seen an overhead picture of the ascending balloon and its payload.
While writing these lines, two more launches took place, the first one numbered 2I also from Halley at 11:44 utc and the other one was launched at 17:35 utc from SANAE as 2W. Both balloons managed to reach float altitude around 38 km succesfuly.
The BARREL campaign -which will continue through January- will include the launch of almost 20 payloads from both sites with the objective of having at any time, three to five balloons aloft circling above the white continent. Stay tuned for more news from the ice.
Trailer of a new balloon documentary - 12/18/2013
Some time ago, we had information from several NASA sources that a new balloon related documentary was on the making. Now, while digging up some information for our Balloon Encyclopedia, we discovered more clues on it. The production of the documentary is being carried out by the Bill Rodman Production Shoppe and apparently will be centered in the origins, development and future use in science of the formerly known NASA's Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) which is now refered simply ss the Super Pressure Balloon (SPB)
Below these lines can be seen the sizzle reel of the upcoming documentary.
The company that is making the documentary is a seven-time Emmy Award winning video production firm located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, run by husband and wife Bill Rodman and Flo R. Ulmer. They were also in charge of the realization of another documentary on the subject entitled "Space Balloons: 120,000 Feet Above Earth" which was premiered on Discovery Science Channel in 2006.
No information is available on where or when the new production will be aired, as it was not finished yet.
MANHIGH II mission portrayed in a TV series - 12/16/2013
The closing of the year brought an unexpected and nice surprise for those interested in space activity and scientific ballooning. And certainly it came from came from the least expected source: an american television drama series called "Masters of Sex" produced by Showtime Networks Inc. and based on the homonymous book by Thomas Maier which tells the story of the real-life pioneers of the science of human sexuality Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
The first season premiered for the American audience on September 29, 2013 with the closing episode of the season being aired recently on December 16. That last episode is entitled "MANHIGH" and is mainly focused in the presentation of Dr. Johnson in front of their colleagues of the Hospital of their findings after 12 months of studies. Hence the episode's name.
However, in different parts of the show Mrs. Johnson's son Henry is watching fascinated the TV which was transmiting "live" the balloon ascent of Major David G. Simons as part of the second flight of the Manhigh project.
As a matter of fact the presentation of the study at the Hospital of the Washington University in St. Louis, was held on August 19, 1957 the same day on which Major Simons started his flight from the bottom of an iron mine pit near Crosby, Minnesota.
Below these lines there are some captures of different parts of the episode, showing the "live" transmission of the event (click to enlarge).
The live transmission of the event was reconstructed from several sources. Scenes on which Simons appear in the foreground (when he was wearing his helmet and faceplate and after the landing) were played by actor George Jonson, while appearances of Colonel John Paul Stapp (planner and director of the project) were played by Wiley M. Pickett. These were mixed with actual footage from Manhigh tests and the landing scene, and the addition of other high altitude filmations but no balloon related. Finally, the scene showing the balloon launch came from other mission, but not from the second Manhigh flight.
We asked the opinion of an expert like Gregory Kennedy author of the book "Touching Space. The story of Project Manhigh". After observing the show he liked to see Manhigh depicted in the series, but remarked the fact that producers took a certain amount of artistic license with their account of the feat:
- In the opening sequence, the announcer says Holloman AFB when the flight took off from Minnesota.
- The alleged conversation between Stapp and Simons did not happen as shown. Stapp did tell Simons he was about to reach the high spot of his career, but it was as the capsule was being sealed, not after launch.
- Simons boarded the capsule the night before the launch and was sealed inside it while they moved the capsule via truck from the Winzen plant in Minneapolis.
- There was no television broadcast from the capsule and no live coverage even remotely like what was depicted. The same apply for the landing sequence.
- The announcer says "The pod doors are open" after landing -- the capsule was never referred to as a pod and it did not have doors.
- It is HIGHLY unlikely that Stapp would have hugged Simons after landing.
However he give high marks to the production for the correct details: the use of actual footage of the capsule and a balloon rather than a cheaply made prop, the pressure suit being worn during the helmet donning shot, and Johnson saying "19 miles above the earth" while watching the broadcast were a nice touch. In all, they did get right for what was a very small portion of the episode.
As far as we know, this is the only opportunity on which an actual scientific balloon mission was used in the plot of a TV show for historical contextualization purposes.
BARREL campaign and recoveries in Antarctica - 11/30/2013
Since past October, a team of scientists of the Darmouth College are preparing a new campaign of balloon launches for the BARREL (Balloon Array for RBSP Relativistic Electron Losses) initiative, which is aimed to study Earth's Radiation Belts. The objective of the campaign starting in late December / early January is to launch up to 20 small sized stratospheric balloons from two Antactic stations: the South African Antarctic Program's SANAE IV station in Vesleskarvet and the British Halley Research Station located on the Brunt Ice Shelf floating on the Weddell Sea.
Each balloon will carry a payload of simple and modular design containing a single Sodium iodide (NaI) scintillator, as principal detector. The entire payload is located in a 2" thick foam enclosure for thermal stabilization. A three axis magnetometer is located on a short boom inside its own thermal enclosure while mounted outside the structure there is an omni-directional solar array that provides the 8 watts of power needed for operation. Once airborne, the data obtained by each payload will be telemetered continuously through the Iridium satellite network and will be received in real-time by the BARREL Mission Operations Center (MOC) located at University of California, Santa Cruz.
On October 22 the BARREL team completed the preparations for the campaign with its Mission Readiness Review (MRR). During the review aside taking account of the lessons learned from the past campaign, the team draw the operations for the upcoming campaign following the NASA safety guidelines for hand launching balloons. Shortly after the MRR has finished the team started to pack all the payloads and elements to be sent to the ice in two separate cargo vessels.
The campaign can be followed throught the blog of the project, or their facebook page.
Minimum activity at McMurdo long duration balloon facility
Althought we informed in our previous post below that the balloon campaign this year will not be carried out, a few staff from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility traveled during November to Antarctica to perform several task related to basic maintenance of the launch hardware.
The tasks included the recovery of the BOSS launch vehicle from the winter snow and the servicing of the vehicle's engine, before being driven to McMurdo station. Once there, the BOSS was stationed at the Heavy Shop for replacement of the transmission system which caused many problems during the last campaign.
A second part included the removing of snow from the helium ISOtanks used to inflate the balloons, the cleaning of the manifold panels and the fitting of high-pressure devices to check and document helium gas pressure available on them.
Another aspect worth to consider on regard the cancellation of the NASA Antarctic Balloon Campaign due to the Government shutdown of past October, is the recovery of the experiments left in the landing sites in Antarctica from the 2012/2013 season campaign. One of the instruments in that condition is the EBEX (E and B Experiment), a balloon-borne polarimeter designed to measure the intensity and polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation, developed by the University of Minnesota and several other institutions, which was launched on December 29, 2012 and was terminated on January 23, 2013. The payload landed in a point located 351 miles NNW of McMurdo, and due to the proximity of the close of the season the EBEX team managed to perform only a brief trip to the landing site and recovered the data vaults and some key elements of the instrument. However, the recovery of the cryostat and components of the structure was delayed until the 2013/2014 campaign, now cancelled.
By a lucky chance and with great effort from the several parties involved (NSF and NASA among others) with the end of the shutdown, the recovery operation was slightly delayed but on the making. According to the EBEX in flight blog, a small team from EBEX was able to set foot on the ice in early November and planned to take a Twin Otter plane from McMurdo to Mario Zucchelli Station (an Italian Antarctic base located at Terra Nova Bay) which will be used as home to make at least two trips from there to the landing site.
The same occured to Super-TIGER (Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder) a heavy cosmic ray experiment developed by the Washington University in St. Louis, launched on December 8, 2012 and terminated on Febraury 1st, 2013 landing 350 nautic miles NNW of McMurdo station, after setting a new endurance record for zero pressure balloons in Antarctica of 55 days, 1 hour and 34 minutes.
At this point we don't know if there are any recovery effort on the SuperTIGER side. If not, the question is to know if the instrument could survive the hard conditions of another Antarctic winter.
US Government shutdown forces to cancel Antarctic balloon campaign - 11/1/2013
During the first 17 days of October, the Government of the United States experienced the so called "shutdown" which in short can be defined as the process the Executive Branch must enter into, when the Congress creates a "funding gap" by choosing not to or failing to pass legislation funding government operations and agencies.
Besides the well known problems generated by this situation in the daily lives of people, it affected in many forms the normal agenda of several Federal agencies, including NASA and it's balloon program.
On regarding the fall balloon launch campaign at Ft. Sumner, as the shutdown was effective since midnight September 30th -when the campaign was already completed- it's impact was minor affecting only some tasks related to the return of some pieces of equipment back to Wallops Flight Facility. However, for the upcoming Antarctic long duration balloon launch campaign which each year between December and January performs two or three flights around the pole, the situation was devastating.
The time of the year on which the "shutdown" occured had a central impact on the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF): by the moment on which the critical situation declared, the program was starting the deployment operations of the scientific teams that would take part of the summer research campaign. The uncertainty about the duration of the "shutdown" forced USAP to announce that they were entering in the so called "caretake" mode: keeping its three Antarctic research stations (McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott and Palmer) open under rules designed to protect human lives and US government property.
Once the situation was partially resolved, NSF began examining the planned research schedule to see how much could still be accomplished by the end of the field season, in February of 2014, while simultaneously ramping back up the complex logistical framework needed to support the science. As a result NSF announced in a press release issued on October 28 that has been decided to cancel the support for a field camp on Mt. Erebus active volcano; a field camp for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide project; an over-ice traverse to support portions of the Whillians Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) Project and most of the support for NASA's Long-Duration Balloon facility.
This season three missions were planned to be performed, BACCUS (Boron And Carbon Cosmic rays in the Upper Stratosphere) an experiment designed to investigate the source, propagation and acceleration mechanism of high-energy cosmic-ray nuclei by directly measuring their energy and charge; SPIDER, a balloon-borne instrument to map the polarization of the millimeter-wave sky with degree angular resolution and a technological test of the Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) being developed by NASA since mid 90's and which was rescheduled for the Antarctic campaign from it's originally planned launch date of June 2013 from ESRANGE, Sweden.
When the budgetary crisis finally ceased BACCUS and SPIDER were already in New Zealand waiting to make the final crossing to the ice. Now that the missions were cancelled the scientific teams have to afford the costs of a year of storage there totake part of the 2014/2015 camapign or the return of the equipment to the United States. On regard the SPB mission according to several sources NASA is studying some alternative launch scenarios including making it from Sweden or from a new site under study in New Zealand, among other options.
This is the second time since the inception of the Antarctic balloon program that no balloons were launched during a season, but is the first time on which this kind of situation affects directly the balloon program. In April 2011, a similar situation almost grounded the last flight of the X-Ray telescope HERO (now reincarnated in HEROES) which was waiting to be launched from Alice Springs in Australia, but then the "shutdown" was avoided. This time, however the consequences may be of greater impact for the long duration balloon program which counts with a limited launch capability each year. This will force to reschedule the planned launches in the immediate future.