ANITA landed, closing the Antarctic campaign - 1/19/2007
Williams Field (Antarctica) The first balloon launched and the last still remaining in the air, in this year's NASA Antarctic campaign, was terminated on January 19th a little after of 1:00 utc. The termination command was transmited from a C-130 plane flying in the vicinity of the balloon.
From an aerial inspection, once in the ground the payload tipped over one side but appeared to be in good shape. The member of the scientific team confirmed also the separation of the parachute from the payload.
After near 35 days of traveling over Antarctica, the strange looking instrument created to detect neutrinos, landed at coordinates, 84º 33' S, 22º 07' W, in a good zone to perform a Twin Otter landing for recovery purposes.
After several cancelled launch attempts during the previous days, on December 15, When the team of scientists saw the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) personnel unpacking from his containing box the shiny fabric of the balloon, they realized this time will be the real one. ANITA was waiting hanging bellow the arm of the launch vehicle (the so called "boss") for a couple of hours when the rigging operation started.
Near 12:30 (New Zealand Time) started the inflation of the giant gasbag (40 million cubic feets), meanwhile the air activity in the Williams Field airstrip halted waiting for the launch. Finally, at 13:30 the balloon was launched without any trouble.
The initial ascent phase was carried out at 1000 feet/minute passing through the critical zone of the Tropopause one hour after released, and reached the float altitude near 123.000 ft at 18:30 NZT. The balloon's path looked a little strange at first but then acquired a more nominal trajectory as expected.
ANITA is a radio telescope to detect ultra-high energy cosmic-ray neutrinos by use of the Askaryan effect. This effect predicts the production of a coherent radio emission from the cascade of particles produced in a high-energy particle interaction. In other words detecting a 'snap' in the radio frequencies caused by the interaction of the ultra-high energy neutrino. In order to detect this radio emission (Askaryan pulses) it's needed a radio transparent medium for the interaction. One of the best materials to do so is ice, so ANITA will fly over Antarctica (the location of some of the most pure ice in the world as well as one of the most radio quiet spots on earth) triying to get a more deep insight in this particles. It was developed by the Universities of Hawaii (Manoa), Washington (St. Louis), Ohio, California (Irvine & LA), Minnesota, Kansas and Delaware, as well the JPL (NASA), and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
This was his third flight after a first test "piggy backing" on TIGER in 2003 and a second engineering test from Fort Sumner in 2005.
BLAST in Antarctica: the worst end - 1/19/2007
Williams Field (Antarctica).- The hope of the scientists of the team in charge of the BLAST (Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope), to obtain important data about the origin of the Universe, faded suddenly last January 2th, when the telescope was detached from the balloon and once landed the parachute that delivered safely to land not separated from it and acted as a huge sail. As a result, the instrument was dragged for miles over the rough terrain of the Antarctic Plateau being destroyed. Nevertheless, a quick response of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility balloon team along with the local support of McMurdo base personnel, prevented a total loss: a recovering team found and brought safely to the base the pressure vessel containing the data obtained during the almost 12 days of flight above the white continent.
The history started on December 21th, a little after 2:00 UTC, when the giant balloon was launched carrying BLAST to the stratosphere (right image).
Although the launch was very clean, the team of scientists were a bit worried at the moment of the gondola launch: after the balloon was released and meanwhile the balloon was almost vertical over the launch vehicle, the glove of one of the rigging guys entangled with a reins, delaying a bit the moment of the release of the gondola by the launch arm. Aside that, the launch went smooth and after a few hours the balloon reached without trouble the planned ceiling.
During the entire flight aside minor issues in the back-up gyroscopes and the GPS system the instrument performed flawlessly and the scientists were very satisfied with the data obtained. For our first time visitors let's say that BLAST is a telescope with a 2-meter primary mirror and his main objetive is to provide the scientific community the firsts sensitive large-area submillimeter surveys, addressing some of the most important cosmological and Galactic questions regarding the formation and evolution of stars.
On January 2th, 2007 and after traveled almost 3000 nautic miles during 12 days the BLAST's liquid helium supply was depleted so the entire system was turned off and secured for termination procedures. The payload was separated from the balloon in a point located west of the Trans-antarctic Mountains, (410 nm SW of the launch base McMurdo Station. Apparently the parachute opening was more violent than anticipated lossing immediately all communication link beetween the falling package and the CSBF control center in Palestine. Although the quick reaction of the personnel trying to restore the link in several ways, was impossible to perform the separation of the parachute after impact, so the payload was dragged across the terrain and was finally destroyed.
A recovery team departed from Mcmurdo on January 3th and found that BLAST stop his ground travel within a large crevasse field so the Twin Otter was unable to land close enough for the recovery crew to reach the payload from the ground. The following day, the pressure vessel (containing the 2 hard disks of recorded data mirrored on both of them) was spotted from a plane dispatched from McMurdo. It was located in an area wich provided better landing conditions so in January 6th a recovery team was deployed there and the data vault was returned to McMurdo that same day to be sent back to the States by the scientific team.
Now the National Science Foundation (responsible for Antarctic operations) is evaluating to made another Twin Otter mission to recover additional BLAST components from a prioritized list provided by BLAST's Principal Investigator, Dr. Mark Devlin.
This was the third flight of the instrument after a first engineering trip from Fort Sumner in 2003, and a partially succesful long duration transatlantic flight from Sweden to Canada in 2005.