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 fromIn flight sincePayload or experimentLast known status

Last completed balloon flights (updated 2-Dec-2022 )

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 Paso Robles (CA)2022/11/3THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61317 h
 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 610---
 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
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/17THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 604~ 44 d
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/17SOLAR9 h 28 m
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/13THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6031 d 9 h 45 m
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/12CALASET13 h 14 m

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 UniversitĂ  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...