Polar winter balloon launches in Svalbard - 1/31/2011
Ny-Alesund, Svalbard.- A team composed by the researchers Paolo de Bernardis and Silvia Masi, from the University of Rome La Sapienza along with Steven Peterzen from the ISTAR Group performed two balloon launches during the first week of January 2011 from the community of Ny-Alesund, the world's northernmost functional public settlement, located on the Brøgger Peninsula in Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard.
The flights were made at the Dirigibile Italia research facility, managed by CNR with support for the launches of personnel from Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany) who also provided helium for the balloons. Kings Bay AS manages the international arctic research station and provided excellent overall support for the operations.
The purpose of the campaign was to observe, in real time, the polar winter night sky stratospheric wind trajectories for planning future campaigns with heavy lift Long Duration Balloons (LDB) during the polar night. The advantage of a winter flight offers the science teams observations without the solar radiation experienced during the summer months. The payload denominated Polar Observation Platform (POP) was a simple battery powered ARGOS/GPS transmitter that delivered time, temperature, speed, heading, and altitude. The balloons used in the flights were cylinder shaped with a volume of 2.523 m3 each and were manufactured by Near Space Corporation of Tillamook, Oregon, USA.
The first launch was performed in mild conditions, with temperatures of minus 12ºC and winds less than 2 knots. After release, the balloon ascended nominally but after reaching an altitude of 18 km it began to descend until landing on a glacier. Recovery of the balloon and payload will be made when daylight returns to the far north.
The second launch operation was performed in better conditions (minus 8º C, 1 knot winds) until the moment of beginning the inflation when the winds rose to 12 kts and so maintained until launch. Ironically, after the balloon was released from the spool the winds calmed down again and remained calm for the next 24 hours. The second balloon maintained a nominal ascent and remained at the prescribed float altitude for 5.5 days. The resulting trajectory (which can be seen in detail clicking the map at right) confirmed the fact that stratospheric winds during the winter months can support a Long Duration Balloon (LDB) flight. As this balloon was launched a few hours before the departure from Antarctica of the ULDB, it has become the first balloon airborne of 2011.
The team plans to return to Ny-Alesund in December of 2011 and January 2012 to extend the investigation of the polar winter stratospheric winds in preparation for a heavy lift (large payload) winter campaign.
Last Concordiasi balloon terminated - 1/23/2011
Toulouse, France.- The last balloon that remained aloft of the 19 launched during the Concordiasi campaign, ended his trip of near three months around the southern hemisphere. The termination ocurred over the Southern Pacific Ocean offshore the chilean patagonia today, January 23 marking the end of the international effort that started in last October.
As we mentioned in previous entries, the campaign was aimed to study -at a never before achieved level of detail- two main issues: the polar stratospheric cloud formation and the dynamics of the atmosphere in an unexplored region as Antarctica and also to obtain in-situ measurements coordinated with overpasses of the MetOp-A satellite, using a special kind of balloon-borne gondola called "Driftsonde" that allowed to drop tiny sondes by remote command to obtain measurements over zones of special interest.
The campaign was carried out mainly by a French team from the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the Institut Paul Emile Victor (IPEV), Météo-France, the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD) and the Laboratoire de Glaciologie et de Géophysique de l'Environnement (LGGE). Also were part on the US side of the field deployment personnel from NSF, NCAR, the University of Wyoming, Purdue University, GMAO and the University of Colorado.
According to a recent press release from CNES the data obtained along the 1300 days of flight achieved by all the balloons together, shows very promising.
NASA relief: ULDB succesfully launched - 1/17/2011
McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- After near ten launch attempts in this season of uncooperative weather and with the shadow of the failures that occurred in the last two years, finally appears that the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon) project is rising again.
A scaled up version (14 million cubic feet of volume) of the super pressure balloon was succesfully launched from the Williams Field Airport near McMurdo Station, at 22:46 UTC, on January 9,missing the opportunity to be the first stratospheric balloon launched in the new year, as the Polar Observation Platform (POP) had been airborne over the arctic two hours before.
At right can be seen the moment on which the balloon has been released and is advancing over the launch vehicle to pickup the tiny payload (click to enlarge). The image was obtained from the Flickr photo album of Matthew Truch a member of the BLAST-Pol team, on which can be found a lot of images of the launch operation.
According to the brief statement published by the agency in the Balloon Program Office website, "...it was a very smooth launch in excellent weather conditions. The balloon has reached float altitude, pressurized, and fully deployed. All camera and telemetry/command systems are performing nominally..."
At the time of this writing the balloon -after 8 days aloft- just completed the first half of the turn to the pole, and according to the information available at CSBF website, its performing flawlessly maintaining a fixed altitude around 111.000 ft. At left you can see the actual flight path of the mission (click to enlarge).
Stay tuned soon for more news on this and the BLAST-Pol and CREAM recovery effort.
End of flight for BLASTpol - 1/7/2011
McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- The balloon that NASA launched on December 27 from the Williams Field Airport near McMurdo Station, which transported onboard the BLAST-pol (Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope for Polarimetery) instrument (discussed in detail on our previous entry) was terminated over the Ross Ice Shelf on January 5, after 9 days and 17 hours of flight.
The end of mission 615N, was commanded via satellite from the Operations Control Center of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), located in Palestine, Texas at 21:31 utc time. After the long descent under parachute, the payload landed 300 miles SSE of the launch base short before completing the first circumnavigation to the south pole. In the map at right is plotted the entire flight path of the mission.
Althought the science group -whom moved after launch to new headquarters in the Albert P.Crary Lab. in McMurdo to follow the flight- reported that the instrument worked very well during the entire trip and that the sensitivity of their detectors was better than expected, they decided to terminate the mission after one circumnavigation, due in part to the favorable balloon trajectory (which allowed a payload impact close to McMurdo Station) and the fact that an easier or complete recovery of the instrument was deemed of higher priority to a longer flight.
At the time of this writing the health of the payload was not yet confirmed as a first twin otter flight to the impact site was canceled due to poor weather.
Meanwhile the CREAM VI recovery effort is underway. As you my remember from our previous entry, that mission suffered an "uncommanded termination" in the other side of the Antarctic continent. After a planning meeting held by CSBF staff with representatives of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Raytheon (main contractor) and personnel of the science team, the recovery effort will start with an overfly of the payload impact site by a plane of the British Antarctic Survey, during a planned visit to the Halley Station. On that opportunity they will assess the conditions of the snow surface to determine if a bigger plane (a Basler) can land there. After January 22 NSF will send a Twin Otter mission to recover the drives containing the scientific data, detectors and main CSBF electronics while the remaining payload components would be recovered later in the season by the NSF's Basler, and sent via Rothera and South America to United States.
Althought declared flight ready two weeks ago and after seven cancelled launch attempts, the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon) test flight is still waiting his turn to be launched. Will they succeed this week ...? Stay tuned !