Two more flights from New Mexico - 4/22/2008
Fort Sumner, New Mexico, (USA).- The current launch campaign of the NASA balloon program this year is progressing well. Two more launches were done the last week from the Airport of Fort Sumner in the eastern side of New Mexico.
The first flight (as 582NT) took place on April 13, when a 4.000.000 cu.ft. balloon was launched at 13:02 UTC. This was the final flight qualification mission for the Micro-Instrumentation Package (MIP) a compact telemetry system developed for use on lightweight balloon payloads, already launched during the campaign on a balloon that suffered a burst. This second flight of the MIP endured near six hours and ended 17 nautic miles southeast of Plainview, Texas. During the balloon cruise the MIP successfully performed all of the flight monitoring and commanding functions, with no problems noted and also performed both the flight termination and parachute separation.
The second flight on the past week (numbered 583 NT) was done on April 19 and involved a new balloon near 29.000.000 cuft made by Raven Inc. The balloon was released from the launch spool at 15.11 UTC and after an initial ascent nominal phase, reached the float altitude of 122.000 feet without troubles.
The mission was a qualification test of the Raven SF450-H polyethylene film for zero-pressure balloons made with Huntsman resin. After near 5 hours of flight, the craft went down 35 nautic miles northeast of Plainview, Texas. According to the post-flight report the balloon performance was within design parameters and specifications through the complete flight regime.
The rest of the campaign will be devoted to perform a test flight of a scaled down model of the Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) new design and the second flight of the Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope (CREST) build to study cosmic rays.
As allways we are in debt with our friend Tom Steiner who kindly provided us with fresh news on the subject.
First Swedish transatlantic flight this Summer - 4/16/2008
Kiruna, Sweden.- Up to now the only balloons flown in transatlantic flight from the European Space Range near Kiruna, to Canada were launched and operated by NASA balloon program with a local logistical support. Now, for the first time in next June will be launched a mission carried out entirely by Swedish scientific institutions.
The stratospheric balloon will transport a mass spectrometer called P-BACE (Polar Balloon Atmospheric Composition Experiment) (see picture) intended to be a test mission to try out new technology in the framework of the MEAP (Mars Environment Analogue Platform) project. This is a joint effort of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) and the University of Bern in Switzerland and was developed to conduct a number of measurements on Mars during forthcoming missions. MEAP test will take place in the Earth's stratosphere, an environment that has many similarities to the conditions at the surface of Mars.
Circumpolar flights during the winter, when the winds in the stratosphere blow from the West, have been performed from Kiruna for many years. Since 2005 the scientific community have the choice to perform during the summer months, these long duration flights but in the opposite direction. According to Dr.Olle Norberg, manager at Esrange, the ultimate goal is to obtain permission from Russia to overflight their territories to allow a full path around the pole in the future: "...circumpolar flights are in great demand by scientists from around the world (...) they want to perform longer measurements both during the summer and the winter. The opportunity to fly balloons right round the North Pole would in all likelihood greatly increase the number of balloon flights from Kiruna..."
Althought relluctantly, Russia often allowed the overflights of their territories, even by balloons launched by NASA, but the last of thease flights took place in 1997 and after that time no other permissions to repeat this kind of long duration flights was given. Maybe a faint echo of the pre-satellite cold war days, when the US Military used hundred of balloons to spy the territory of the formely Soviet Union.
Joseph Kittinger honored by Lifetime Achievement trophy - 4/5/2008
Washington D.C. USA.-The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Trophy, the museum's highest honor, has been awarded this year to the team responsible for the Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission and to the world record-setting parachutist and balloonist Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr. Established in 1985, the award recognizes outstanding achievements in the fields of aerospace science and technology. As in past years, trophy winners receive a miniature version of "The Web of Space" a sculpture by artist John Safer.
In the museum's press release the pilot and balloonist (honored in the category of Lifetime Achievement) is mentioned as "an example of the finest traditions of American aviation".
Kittinger had a key role in the several balloon-borne efforts carried out in the 50's and early 60's to obtain data on cosmic radiation effects and human behaviour in quasi space conditions. The MANHIGH, EXCELSIOR and STARGAZER projects helped to pave the way to achieve the great goal of the decade: to safely put a man in Space.
While participating in U.S Air Force high-altitude balloon research programs, he parachuted from 102,800 feet setting a world record for the highest parachute jump and longest free fall that still stands today. After being shootdown in 1972 over east Asia in a combat mission, he spent 11 months as a prisoner of war. Retired from the Air Force in 1978, he remains an active balloon and fixed wing pilot. A four-time winner of the Gordon-Bennett balloon trophy, he completed the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic in 1984. Kittinger is one of the nation's most distinguished and honored aviators.
The 2008 winners received their awards in a private ceremony held at the National Air and Space Museum building in Washington, on April 3.
NASA spring launch campaign is starting - 4/4/2008
Fort Sumner, New Mexico, (USA).- The second balloon of NASA's stratospheric balloon launch campaign was launched today at Fort Sumner airport under the guidance of the personnel of Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) whom moved early March from Palestine (TX), where is located the main launch base.
The mission numbered 581NT, started at 14.20 (UTC time) and lasted a little bit more than 5 hours. After crusing at 120.000 feet in an eastward path, the balloon crossed the Texas border where the payload was separated from the balloon at 19:45 (UTC time). The payload landed half an hour later near the town of Dimmitt.
Errata: Initially we assumed that this flight was intended to test a new compact telemetry system called MIP, but thanks to the information provided by our friend Tom Steiner we must confess that we were wrong. The mission was devoted to flight qualify the 29.000.000 cubic feet balloon design using the new Charter Films SF-430-B film extrusion process and loading the balloon with a dummy payload weighting 6,000 pounds to test it at near maximum launch stress Index. According to the post flight report "...the balloon envelope deployment, ascent into float, and the float through solar noon were normal...". Thank you Tom!
As we mentioned above, last week took place the first MIP test flight -nomenclated as 580NT-. The balloon was launched on March 30 at 14:58 (UTC time) but after a nominal ascent phase and near to reach the float altitude, the balloon burst. An automatic onboard system detected the failure and terminated the flight at once. The payload landed in good shape near Hereford, Texas. Aside the balloon failure, apparently, the MIP testing objectives were met both in ascent and descent.
In short, the MIP stands for Micro-Instrumentation Package and is a telemetry system currently being developed by CSBF. It provide uplink and downlink communications, interface to the science experiment, housekeeping information including global positioning system (GPS) location of the balloon, and relays. The MIP central unit is composed of a microcontroller, an electronic unit with less power consumption, easily programmed, and cheaper than a microprocessor.
This will be an important campaign because among scientific instruments and new balloons to be flown, will take place a flight test of the renovated design of the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration balloon) which was succesfully indoor tested last year in a giant hangar in Weeksville (NC).