On Fournier's big jump failure - 5/29/2008
North Battleford, Canada.- Just minutes after the failure that left the veteran parachutist Michel Fournier in his capsule while his balloon rocketed to the sky, a lot of ink, bytes and words started to be spilled by the media around the future of the "Big Jump" and the causes of the missed launch.
First of all, the facts. As you may remember from our last updates, the original launch date was set for Sunday 25th, then delayed until Monday 26th when a first launch was attempted but was aborted before inflation started due to strong winds in the area and finally on Tuesday 27th, under perfect conditions the team proceeded with the operations. After Fournier suffered the mandatory denitrogenization prior to the flight, with the firsts lights the ground team started the balloon layout and after a while the inflation procedure itself. Here the "Big Jump" was in a "no return" point since an inflated balloon can't be emptied without damaging it. Nevertheless, after releasing it from the launch spool the gas bag moved to the crane which was holding the gondola but instead pick it up to the sky, it ascended alone without his cargo under the amused sight of the people who attended the launch, the ground team and the pilot itself. The failure was traced to a "squib" which experienced an unexpected firing, setting the balloon free from the capsule.
A video footage of the failed launch can be seen clicking here.
After the press conference held at North Battleford at noon of the same day, was clear for everyone present there that instead to stop him in his enterprise Fournier is clearly focused in his next step: to try again his feat next August and this time with a spare balloon in the hangar. "I am not discouraged..." he said, adding "...and I am not finished."
Mr. Fournier's spokeswoman, Francine Gittins, conducted the press meeting. Aside the Fournier's words much of the attention was caught by another team member Michel Chevalier, who made a detailed account of the failure. Thanks to Jim Whitesell from the Hotairballooning.com website -who was present at North Battleford to witness the launch- we can get a detailed technical account of it. He explained that in the device are a total of five explosive bolts that can be used to separate the capsule and parachutes from the balloon envelope when the flight is terminated.
Any one of the explosive bolts will do the job of separation. The five are designed to allow separation in every conceivable situation. The activation sequence is:
Bolt Number 1. Is activated by a button in the capsule which must be held down for several seconds to prevent accidental firing. This would be pushed by Fournier just prior to leave the capsule. A delay timer is activated at the same time so the actual firing occurs 30 minutes after the button was pushed. Bolt Number 4 also fires from this same signal.
Bolt Number 2. Is Activated by radio signal that can be sent from within the capsule or from the ground. Bolt Number 5 also fires from the same signal.
Bolt Number 3. Is fired by radio remote with a backup timer that must be set at the launch time. Electronics for all the others are contained in the capsule, so their signals run via cable from the capsule to their mounting point above the parachutes. This particular unit has a separate power supply and receiver, mounted near it and is a redundant radio controlled system that can be fired from the capsule or ground. The delay timer also will fire it six hours after launch as a final backup in case all other systems have not been activated.
According to the information provided, it was stated that bolt number three is the one that fired prematurely, but until now, there is not a clear answer on what caused the accidental firing.
Although the mission abort prompted skepticism from the public and the media,the reality is that these kind of problems are part of a rather complex project like this being carried out not by a government agency with near unlimited resoruces, but by an individual. Jim Whitesell made a perfect synthesis of this in their declarations to the press and TV in North Battleford, minutes after the aborted mission: "...Launching a big balloon isn't simple. If people realized how many things can go wrong, they wouldn't be so ready to knock this guy..."
As a matter of fact, these kind of occurences are not uncommon in the scientific ballooning history, and even they had in the past an humorous side. Back in the middle 50's during a balloon miassion carried out at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, one of those "squibs" used for separate the balloon from the payload was fired by a radio signal coming from a commercial station transmiting in a nearby frequency of the balloon telecommand signal. In that moment, the station was broadcasting the "Tiger Rag" a song which for instance had a sound pattern similar to the precoded termination signal. The system missinterpreted the song sound by the code and fired at once the explosive bolt of the termination system.
Originally planned to be done on French soil, the jump moved to Canada six years ago and suffered two cancellations one in 2002 due to unsuitable weather and the already mentioned in 2003 due to a tear on the balloon. Also in following years budget constrains forced to cancel the jump until now.
The four records to be beaten by Fourier are of height, duration and speed in longest free fall and height for manned balloon. The unofficial freefall record still belongs to Col. Joseph Kittinger (1960) and the official one belongs to the russian R. E. Andreyev.
Let's see what occurs next August. Meanwhile you can found more information on the feat at Fournier's web site in http://www.thesuperjump.org
Balloon workshop in Italy - 5/13/2008
Rome, Italy.-On June 3rd and 4th, will be held at Rome the first "Workshop on Science and Technology through Long Duration Balloons". As can be read in the introduction to the meeting some of the most successful Long Duration Balloon experiments have found their origins in Italy over the past 50 years. As there are several new Italian based balloon-borne experiments being proposed for near future campaigns and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) is developing new balloon capabilities at several locations in the world, the organizers focused the workshop mainly to introduce balloon development in Europe, meet experimenters, answer questions and share ideas on the field.
The meeting will offer the opportunity for parties with a common interest in ballooning to gather for discussions and planning of future ballooning objectives. One of the key components of these objectives is to introduce students to the experimental and operational aspect of performing research using stratospheric balloons something that slowly had become a worldwide trend. According to the brochure "...Bringing students to a workshop such as this can help to inspire their involvement which opens doors to fresh ideas, creativity, as well as a secure future of scientific and even commercial high altitude ballooning..."
The worshop is organized by Università La Sapienza, ASI, Università Tor Vergata, and the INAF-IASF and will count with the presence of the most relevant investigators involved in the development on technical ans scientific aspects of ballooning field in the last years. The meeting will also provide proceedings and a white paper to be presented to ASI for the preparation of a call for proposals for ballooning, demonstrating and detailing the interest of a wide scientific community.
More information and a detailed program is available at http://projects.iasf-roma.inaf.it/Balloons/LDBalloons.htm
Second flight of the USV delayed - 5/8/2008
Tortoli-Arbatax, Sardinia Island.-
The second flight of the Italian Flying Laboratory developed by CIRA (Italian Aerospace Researches Centre) and already droped over the open sea from a stratospheric balloon in 2007 has been delayed until next October.
The launch campaign of the FTB 2 (Flying Test Bed 2) in the framework of the USV (Unmanned Space Vehicle) program, was opened last February with the arrival to the Tortoĺ-Arbatax airport of the second unmanned plane nicknamed "POLLUX" (picture).
The ENAC - Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile (Italian Civil Aviation Authority) was forced to cancel one time the launch operations due to a combination of unsuitable weather issues, and the presence in the drop test landing zone of a international team performing drills in open sea, which would interfere with the normal development of the mission. Later other technical problems with the plane itself arose, adding more delays to the first launch window. A second window was opened in April 18. Two days later with good weather ahead, ENAC authorized to start a 72 hours count-down, setting the launch for the morning of April 23, but again the highly variable weather condition deteriorated, and after analizing the forecasts (which showed winds and sea in bad condition) the count-down was stalled at 4:00pm of April 21, just a day before the zero hour.
With only a few days available and taking account of the complex procedures for the count-down USV's program delegate at Torotoli airport Mr. Gennaro Russo, cancelled the launch operation re-scheduling it for the next weather window fixed for next October.
The first drop test was carried out with a twin vehicle nicknamed "Castor" on Febraury 2007. After a succesfull release the balloon situated over the open sea and droped the plane from 20.1 km of height. Unfortunately, during splash-down the vehicle has been damaged due to a failure of the parachute system first stage. Nevertheless, the mission target was completely achieved and a very significant bulk of information relevant to the flight was acquired. See our complete report for more information.
Thank you so much to Mr. Roberto Palumbo from CIRA by the information provided on this subject.
Another STRATOCAT's failure ;-) - 5/7/2008
Fort Sumner, New Mexico, (USA).- Yesterday, we informed about an apparently failed flight of the new ULDB (Ultra Long Duration balloon).
Well, thanks to Tom Steiner, who send us the official word on the subject we realized that we were totally wrong. The flight was not an ULDB flight neither failed. The 1.5 million cubic feet volume balloon was launched to simulate the ascent profile of Flight 580 NT which failed going into float at the beginning of the campaign.
According to the post flight report "...during ascent to float, ballast was dropped as required to satisfactorily simulate the ascent rate of Flight Number 580 NT. The balloon deployed normally, and successfully entered float without failure. After reaching float, the flight was successfully terminated using standard CSBF procedures for payload separation, and parachute cut away..." hence the short flight time.
Our sincere apologies by the mistake.
Uruguay, and a step in the stratosphere - 5/2/2008
Durazno, Uruguay.- Students and teachers of the Instituto de Ingeniería Eléctrica (Electrical Engineering Institute) of the Republic University (the public one) recently carried out a pioneering experience in the local scientific ballooning arena: they launched and succesfully recovered a stratospheric balloon. The flight took place on April 24, from the Santa Bernardina International Airport runway in the city of Durazno.
The payload consisted of temperature sensors (both internal and external), GPS module, telemetry and data system, radiotransmiter, antenna and a camcorder, transported under a expandable weather balloon of the 700 grs class. The balloon was released at 9:24 hs and meanwhile ascending started a flight path due east-Northeast.
For the tracking of the balloon from the ground a pair of high gain Yagi antennas in tandem were used coupled with a preamplifier of Single Side Band,and another three elements Yagi antenna for search and rescue signal tracking. Making just small adjustements to the antenna's orientation was possible to receive the telemetry from the balloon during all the flight until the balloon fell under the horizon.
Also several HAM's were able to listen to the balloon signals from far cities as Treinta y Tres or Colonia.
Althought the GPS system failed a few minutes before the launch and was not available trought the flight, the ground team was able to calculate the estimated landing zone, using the weather information provided by the Uruguayan Air Force and the calculation of the payload weight and balloon gross inflation. Once terminated the flight -after the burst of the balloon by expansion at maximum altitude- the payload fell back to Earth under the parachute 194 kms from the launch site, near Ney Bentancur's farm in a place called Quebrada de los Cuervos, in the Treinta y Tres Department. A phone call received the same day from the finder of the payload was the culmination of a historical day for the Uruguayan science and technique.
The film obtained -before the camcorder failed as a result of low temperatures- while the balloon was climbing to 14 km in height is of very good quality (below right) and the first of its kind in the country.
Speaking with "El PAIS" newspaper, Juan Pechiar -the project coordinator- explained that the work is part of a end-career thesis, based on an ambitious and "crazy" project, which may be real in four or five years: that Uruguay has its own satellite. "... Launching a balloon is a lot much cheaper than launching a satellite, but the problems are very similar: communication problems, working with low temperatures at 60 and 70 degrees below zero, to use little energy .. . But it is possible to release a balloon with a few hundred dollars, while sending a satellite would require much more than $ 100,000. To learn about the problems, a balloon is much more convenient...", explained Pechiar highlighting at the same time the educational character of the project, "...The spirit is to make a better engineering career, allowing to make things more interesting to students, encouraging their creativity with complicated problems, and promote interaction of a group with another" .
The launch of the balloon is the first phase of the so called "project LAI" to build a satellite. The project name's is not an acronym but the word used by the Charrua Indians (original inhabitants of Uruguay) to designate the stones used in their "boleadoras" a kind of weapon that was thrown to animals for hunting them. According to Pechiar numerous national and international institutions are interested in the use of balloons: "... the people who work in applied optics, at the Institute of Physics, Faculty of Engineering, wants to make spectrometry measurements and observe the atmosphere to detect its composition, the amount of methane, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, etc. " while from France, the Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble, expressed interest in the experience of Uruguay. That institute examines the effects of cosmic radiation on electronic circuits "... that in land is not a problem, but in satellites and high altitude flights it is, making computers not functioning properly" . As a result, probably the second balloon to be launched by Pechair's team would carry a module manufactured jointly by both institutions to expose to the space radiation some state of the art electronic components.
Certainly an experience that not only demonstrates the potential of the balloon as an educational tool but also reinforces the concept of it as being "the satellite of the poor science man". Far from pejorative, an expression of the possibilities open to countries that suffer as Uruguay the lack of monetary resources but are full of wit, will and determination to achieve their goals.
More data on the flight and images of the launch and part of the videos obtained are available in spanish at http://iie.fing.edu.uy/twiki/bin/view.cgi/Satelite/GloboSat01Informe