Antarctic balloon launch campaign ends - 2/21/2009
Williams Field, Antarctica.- With the termination of the flight of the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon) mission on Febraury 20th at 3:59 UTC, the NASA balloon launch campaign 2008/2009 in Antarctica comes to an end. The superpressure balloon mission dubbed as 591NT which not only broke the standing duration record for a heavy load flight but set a new one (54 days, 1 hour and 29 minutes) is resting now in the ice sheet of the Filchner Ice Sheet near the Sea of Wedell. Weather or not be recovered the payload is still unknown, but according to some sources NASA will not try to recover the balloon or the electronics as they used a relatively cheap system to collect flight data. As weird as can be sound the payload is still transmitting data, and will keep doing so until the first sunset over the solar panels.
The other two missions payloads were recovered succesfully. The first balloon to came down was the one transporting the CREAM (Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass) instrument developed by the University of Maryland and NASA Wallops Flight Facility. As you may remember from our past updates it landed on January 7 at 560 nautic miles N-NW of McMurdo Station. On the following days, futile efforts were made to reach the payload due bad weather on site and the complex schedule of the airplanes available for recoveries purposes. A first approach mission was done on January 15 using a Basler which was returning to McMurdo from tasking at Dumont d'Urville base. The plane made a detour to reconnoiter the CREAM landing site and reported that the site appeared to be satisfactory for landing near the payload, but during the next days a recovery mission was not feasible.
Meanwhile, the second balloon launched which was transporting the University of Hawaii's ANITA (Antarctic Impulse Transient Antenna) payload, was terminated on January 20. The instrument landed 122 nautic miles SW of the Siple Dome. The next day, finally, the Basler aircraft transported a recovery crew to the CREAM impact location. As was evident from the air sweeping of the zone the previous week, the area surrounding the payload was satisfactory for aircraft operations to be conducted close to the payload. The crew spended four hours dissasembling the instrument and recovered data computers and disks, NASA's Command Data Module and High Gain Antenna, and other high value equipment items. At right can be seen a picture of the payload on ice just before the recovery work started. A second mission the very next day returned to McMurdo the CREAM Timing Charge Detector, calorimeter boxes, and other structural items.
On January 27, a third recovery mission to the CREAM site returned all the remaining scientific equipment except for the CSBF's Universal Termination Package, the flight train, and the parachute, as these items were far located from the payload landing site, and the soil condition was not good there. The same day a team from the ANITA mission was deployed to the Siple Dome Camp following plans made during the previous days to use that location as headquarters for the recovery operation. The next day the team was able to spend half the day working on dissasembling the payload and returned to Siple Dome with the data vaults, data computers, twenty antennas, CSBF's Support Instrument Package, and miscellaneous structural components. By Febraury 2 the recovered materials from ANITA where all stored at Siple Dome and two days after -the same day on which all the remaining personnel of the CSBF returned home- they were transported to McMurdo for final packing and return to United States.
As a resume, the full campaign's duration was 3 and a half months, the total time with balloons on the air was of 64 days and total flight time acumulated from the three missions was 104 days, 5 hours and 29 minutes. A very succesfull campaign indeed !.
Project to set up an automatic balloon launch station....in Mars! - 2/17/2009
Massachusetts,US.- As weird as can sound a small aerospace firm from Cambridge (MA) is designing a system capable to launch in autonomous form weather balloons to explore the atmosphere of the red planet.
The innovative balloon launcher is known as Shielded Mars Balloon Launcher (SMBL) and consists of a compact lightweight system that could be included on future Mars landers. According to the press statement issued today by Aurora Flight Sciences, such a system would have potential for atmospheric sampling and video data capture unavailable on current Mars missions.
Balloon-based Mars exploration has the capability to cover a larger portion of the Martian surface than is accessible via a rover and to provide better resolution than is available from satellites. Balloons could be used to measure atmospheric data at different altitudes and locations on Mars.
On regard the operative method to inflate the balloons, George Kiwada, project manager assured that "...A major challenge to ground deployment is the possibility of the envelope being damaged by winds, surrounding rocks, or parts of the associated lander. Our concept addresses this challenge by using inflatable structures to provide a safe environment for balloon inflation and deployment...". At left can be seen an artist conception of the system at work.
The company announced that the initiative had received funding from NASA through a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to develop a prototype of the system.
This is not the first time on which Aurora work on an aerial Mars project. Back in 2002 Aurora tested under a stratospheric balloon the so called High Altitude Deployment Demonstrator (HADD) to perform risk reduction activities for a Mars flight. The first air vehicle, HADD1, which was a half scale prototype sharing many of the same aerodynamic characteristics of the ARES aircraft intended to fly in Mars atmosphere in the future had successfully flew at an altitude of more than 100,000 under a balloon launched from Tillamook, Oregon. In that project, Aurora became familiar with the challenges of aerial vehicle operations in the Martian atmosphere which will be exploited now under the new effort framework.
More information on the SMBL project: http://www.aurora.aero/
New endurance record for an Antarctic flight - 2/9/2009
Williams Field, Antarctica.- Surely, NASA's balloon program will not forget the 2008/2009 balloon launch campaign, not only by the smooth development of the first two flights (ANITA and CREAM, both of them finished and recovered) but by the most succesfull flight ever of the program's "jewel of the crown" the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon) flight test.
Added to the quiet and trouble less flight of the 7 million cubic feet giant pumpkin, which finally was extended to let it to perform a third circle to the continent, at 00:07 UTC on February 7, the balloon broke the previous duration record of 41 days, 21 hours and 16 minutes set by the CREAM LDB mission in 2005.
In an article published this week in NATURE David Pierce, chief of NASA's balloon programme at Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops facility in Virginia, said that "...it's been a superb flight..." adding that "...We're proving this is a viable platform."
The balloon tested is the largest single-cell, super-pressure, fully-sealed balloon ever flown and the first of the program to achieve a longer flight after a troubled history which included changes in the original design and even two failed long duration balloon missions from Australia aborted near the border of the island in 2001 and again in 2003. As a technological test the only payload carried is the basic instrumentation package of cameras, sensors and temperature and pressure gauges to measure and to control the craft behavior. As a piggyback payload were included onboard several sensors to be used in the balloon-borne project known as BARREL (Balloon Array for RBSP Relativistic Electron Losses), but which are not undertaking any real measurement.
However the succesfull development of the mission the "golden mark" of the 100 days of duration will not be achieved this time, because NASA wants to bring it down over the continent so that CSBF staff can recover it during the next year summer season, as the polar vortex winds have started to break up, and the balloon will eventually alter it's circular course and flight outside the white continent.
While the ULDB still circles over the south pole (closely watched from the Operations Center in Palestine, Texas) preparations are undergoing to perform another flight during the summer. The next logical step is to scale up once more time the model so in June, from the European Space Range in Kiruna, near the Arctic Circle will be launched a 14 million cubic feet pumpkin balloon with the goal to perform a transatlantic flight to Canada.
If the upcoming test is succesfull, NASA will be close than ever to the final step of the project a 22 million-cubic-foot balloon that would carry a one-ton instrument to an altitude of more than 110,000 feet.
More information on the project: http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/code820/
New mistery radio signal discovered by balloon-borne mission - 2/1/2009
Unexpected results arose from a balloon-borne mission after careful examination of the obtained data when scientists instead of obtain a view of the heat coming from the first generation of stars found a background noise which may became a cosmic puzzle.
The discovery came from the data obtained during the ARCADE (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission) balloon-borne mission whose fourth flight occured in July 2006 over Texas, USA. ARCADE is a collaboration of scientists and engineers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Maryland at College Park, and the National Institute for Space Sciences. Also a key part of the instrument -the horn antennas- were developed at the Astrophysics division of Brazil's national space agency INPE.
According to the principal investigator of the project Dr. Alan Kogut after being scanned about 7 percent of the sky (Image left)"instead of the faint signal we hoped to find, here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted."
Detailed analysis ruled out an origin from primordial stars or from known radio sources, including gas in the outermost halo of our own galaxy. The source of this cosmic radio background remains a mystery.
Many objects in the universe emit radio waves. In 1931, American physicist Karl Jansky first detected radio static from our own Milky Way galaxy. Similar emission from other galaxies creates a background hiss of radio noise. The problem, notes team member Dale Fixsen of the University of Maryland at College Park, is that there don't appear to be enough radio galaxies to account for the signal ARCADE detected. "You'd have to pack them into the universe like sardines," he says. "There wouldn't be any space left between one galaxy and the next."
Kogut announced the findings at the 213th meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in Long Beach, California past January. Four papers describing ARCADE's results have been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal for publication.
ARCADE was the first instrument to measure the radio sky with enough precision to detect this mysterious signal.
To know more about ARCADE you can read the flight sheet that we prepared here at Stratocat including detailed data and pictures of the First Engineering Mission in 2001 the second one performed in 2003 and the two full scientific flights, the first one which took place in 2005 and the latetst one in 2006 on which was discovered the radio emission mentioned in the article.
There you will find direct links to a copy of the articles presented.