Weekly Balloon News #8 - December 8th. 2022

Recent balloon launches and landings

Update on World View balloon flight on Dec 2nd, 2022

A few hours after publishing the current edition of this bulletin, World View contacted me via Twitter about what I've published earlier on the development and ending of their last balloon mission launched from Spaceport Tucson a week ago.

On the right you can see the message published by the company clarifying what happened.

After reading the message, I proceeded to further analyze the data obtained from the ADS-B system. After doing some detailed calculations on the payload drop rate per second, I have to admit that I came to a conclusion that was wrong. After making a detailed comparison of every time frame of the data, the terminal impact velocity at landing was pretty standard. I've compiled the data in a PDF file available here.

To this I must add the wording of the text that did not make it very clear that I was theorizing about "what could have happened" but rather affirming "what had actually happened".

Hope this helps to put things in their proper place. Long live to the data.

Part of the conclusions expressed in the following paragraphs are wrong and have been properly rectified above. Wrong data is crossed out.

Just hours after the closing of the previous issue of this newsletter, World View launched a stratospheric balloon from Spaceport Tucson.

The balloon was sent aloft at 15:43 utc on December 2nd, 2022. After a nominal ascent in strong winds (60 knots average) the balloon reached float altitude about 100,000 ft at 17:14 utc but merely a minute later the altitude readings in the ADS-B tracking network showed that the balloon started to lose altitude at an average of 100 feet per second. Such a descent rate was indicative of a possible balloon burst. Although at first I thought that it was possible that the payload was undergoing a free fall, the reality is that the speed was very low: in other documented cases throughout the history of scientific balloons, the average time for a load to impact against Earth from the stratosphere in free fall is between 2 and 4 minutes. In this case, the payload/balloon reached ground at 100 feet per second 26 minutes later. The landing site was located in an isolated point 12 km E of Virden, New Mexico. Total flight time was one hour and 57 minutes.

Although the speed was very low for a free fall, it was abnormally high for a standard descent. This suggests two possible scenarios: the payload could not be separated from the collapsed balloon and it became entangled in the flight gear causing the rapid fall, or the descent of the payload took place with a semi-collapsed parachute without the necessary drag to lessen the fall. In either case, it is highly probable that the gondola suffered severe damage upon impact with the ground.

At this time no information is available about the status of the mission or payload damage. In the days following the incident, I have consulted with both World View and local authorities, but have received no response. Also, nothing has come out about the event in the media in either New Mexico or Arizona

In the early hours of the morning of December 7, 2022, hundreds or thousands of inhabitants of the populous city of Hyderabad, in the Indian state of Telangana, were shocked by the strange presence of a luminous object that was clearly silhouetted against the semi-cloudy sky of the city.

Images of the strange visitor began to appear on social media, triggering all sorts of rumors about aliens and UFOs. However, the explanation was much more "mundane" since shortly before dawn that same day a stratospheric balloon had been launched from the National Balloon Facility on the outskirts of the city.

Despite the fact that the explanation that soon reached the media served to quell the rumors, the commotion was just beginning.

Almost simultaneously, the inhabitants of the Vikarabad district some 70 kilometers to the southwest, also reported the presence of the balloon, with similar reactions. Although some media already warned of its true origin, some perhaps somewhat sensationalist chronicles spoke openly of "panic" when trying to describe people's reaction. However, the biggest surprise would be taken by the residents of a small village called Mogaligidda who, shortly before noon, witnessed the descent by parachute and the subsequent landing in a field on the outskirts, of a strange capsule as we can see in the images at right.

The fully enclosed capsule landed upside down still attached to the parachute that landed in an adjacent pasture along with a couple of white boxes attached. The scene was soon filled with onlookers who began filming with their cell phones and uploading the videos to different social networks, increasing the commotion. To many of those who commented on the videos, the artifact reminded by its shape of the time machine that appeared in the movie "Adytia 369" a very popular Indian science fiction film from the early 1990s.

Less than half an hour later, staff from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the entity that operates and manages the National Balloon Facility, arrived at the landing site. First they proceeded to turn the capsule over and after opening a small hatch on one of its sides they began to disassemble it.

After completely separating one of its sides, they proceeded to extract from its interior a series of instruments that were located in a rack in the central part of the room. Later in the afternoon, some news reporters appeared on site and interviewed the personnel in charge of the recovery, who explained the origin and purpose of the artifact: the capsule belonged to HALO Space, a Spanish firm that plans to offer tourist flights into near space in a balloon starting in 2024. It had been launched from Hyderabad at 5:30 in the morning of that day as part of a test flight as reported in number 2 of this bulletin in October.

More details of the flight including a video of the launch and additional images, are available here.

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've updated flight reports for several balloon missions carried out in the framework of the Flight Opportunities program from NASA. The initiative, funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) aims to facilitate rapid demonstration of promising technologies for space exploration and the expansion of commercial space applications through suborbital testing with industry flight providers. Three platforms are available: rocket-powered suborbital vehicles, parabolic aircraft, and of course high-altitude balloons. In this last category, the initiative counts with five flight providers: Angstrom Designs, Aerostar, Stratodynamics, World View and Near Space Corporation.

In this update I've completed the series of flights performed by Near Space Corporation, from their launch sites of Tillamook and Madras (both in Oregon) in 2013 and 2014.

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 Madras Muni. (OR)2014/7/18ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast)---
 Madras Muni. (OR)2014/7/17PAMSS (Planetary Atmosphere Minor Species Sensor)---
 Tillamook (OR)2014/6/6GPHAR (Guided Parafoil High Altitude Research)52 m
 Tillamook (OR)2013/12/5ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast)F 1 h 20 m
 Tillamook (OR)2013/7/19HASS (High Altitude Shuttle System)---
 Tillamook (OR)2013/2/15ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast)3 h 32 m
 Madras Muni. (OR)2013/1/22ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast)1 h 30 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 9-Dec-2022 )

Launched fromIn flight sincePayload or experimentLast known status

Last completed balloon flights (updated 9-Dec-2022 )

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 Spaceport Tucson (AZ)2022/12/2PAYLOAD UNKNOWN1 h 57 m
 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 61010 d
 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

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...