End for two balloon campaigns of the French space agency CNES - 5/20/2010
Kiruna, Sweden.- This week with the launch of the remaining two missions, was officially closed the stratospheric balloon launch campaign started in early April from the Swedish base of Esrange. Both flights had technological objectives and were of short duration (2 hours average). The first one under a 12.000 m3 balloon was launched on May 13, and the most recent was launched on May 19 and involved a balloon made by the french firm Zodiac with a volume of 800.000 m3. That last mission also served to assess the performance of the giant balloon which is in phase of qualification, to be operational in the future.
Meanwhile, in the other side of the world, after a succesfull flight time of 83 days was terminated the last superpressure balloon still in flight of the three originally launched by CNES on Febraury from the Airport of Mahe, in Seychelles Islands, Indian Ocean. At the moment of finishing the flight, the balloon was over the Pacific Ocean in a point located half way between Fidji and New Caledonia.
The objective of the three launches was to fly these balloons in the inter-tropical belt to provide useful information on the performance of the various scientific instruments and complementary components, which will be used during the full fledged Concordiasi campaign that will be carried out at McMurdo station in Antarctica starting in September.
Again, we are in debt with Patrick Ragazzo from CNES by the heads up.
:: Concordiasi official site at MeteoFrance server
Michel Fournier in Canada: 2010 attempt postponed (Update #1) - 5/18/2010
North Battleford, Canada.- Definitively the luck is not on the side of the french parachutist Michel Fourier. Yesterday we informed that the second attempt to perform his flight was delayed due to technical difficulties until next Wednesday, May 19, but a few hours after our publication, we received some informations indicating that the american team involved in the operations had returned home, and the current effort was called off.
A few hours later the fact was confirmed by Fournier itself who informed on his website that "...The next attempt has been postponed to an unknown date in the future; however, it will not be in the next few weeks...". Some sources mention next August as a possible date but really is hard to say when he will return to Canada.
Yesterday, when we published this information, (having Fournier's website as only information source) we were not aware of the fact that at the moment of the parachute failure, the launch operation was almost complete and the balloon inflated. As you may know once a stratospheric balloon is inflated it's extremelly risky to de-inflate it and packit again for late use: all the handling of the extreme delicate fabric can suffer tears and holes that will deteriorate his capability to reach altitude, something so risky in the case of a manned flight. Being known this yesterday, surely we would not be so optimistic on regard a new launch attempt soon, as now reality confirms.
A very tight budget prevented the French veteran parachutist of having a spare balloon, that could be saved the day.
Fournier had arrived to Canada on the first days of May, in the frame work of his personal project "Le Grand Saut" (The Big Jump) to jump from a gondola hanging from a stratospheric balloon at 40 km of altitude. The aim of the project of the 66 years old former military paratrooper is to beat the four records (height, duration and speed in longest free fall and height for manned balloon) set by Lt.Col.Joseph W. Kittinger during the Excelsior III mission in August 1960. The operations are being carried out from the North Battleford Municipal airport in Saskatchewan, Canada.
A first attempt was planned to be carried out in Sunday May 16, but a unexpected technical failure prevented to do so. According to the information provided at Fournier's new website, during the launch countdown and while Fournier was seating inside the capsule breathing pure oxygen, his parachute deployed spontaneously, forcing to cancel the launch.
After investigation, the failure was traced to the automatic barometric system that deploys the parachute at an altitude of 300 meters in case the pilot is unable to do it. Apparently during a leak test of the capsule that is performed as part of the pre-launch checkings, the sudden change in the internal pressure made the system to assume that the pilot was in freefall and at an altitude of 300 meters. These two parameters together were enough for the activation of the security system.
After reading the press release we remembered what occured to Clifton McClure pilot of the Manhigh III mission in 1958: merely an hour before actual launch, the chest pack parachute, whether through improper packing or the accidental pulling of the ripcord, popped open and the parachute dropped into his lap. The parachute, included for pilot escape if the emergency capsule parachute malfunctioned, was one of a kind. It was specially rigged for use in the reduced space of the capsule. Although he was not trained as a parachute packer, Mcclure had, several months prior, carefully observed the packing procedure. Risking a mission abort,McClure exerted superhuman effort to repack the parachute twice. The task was complete merely 20 minutes prior to launch.
Originally planned to be done on French soil, the jump moved to Canada eight years ago and suffered two cancellations one in 2002 due to unsuitable weather, and another in 2003 due to a tear on the balloon, and a failed launch during the the most recent attempt in 2008 when a "squib" experienced an unexpected firing, setting the balloon free from the capsule.
:: From the Minds Behind regional Blog
:: Pictures of the launch attempt by Josh Schaefer
:: Covering of the event by Jennifer Bogo for Popular Mechanics
:: Le Grand Saut
Alice Springs, or the great unknown - 5/13/2010
Alice Springs, Australia.- After the worldwide diffusion of the NCT (Nuclear Compton Telescope) launch accident (see our update on April 30) all is quiet now in Alice Springs. NASA is involved in a full, formal investigation to know what happened, starting from a factual base: "...for reasons yet to be determined, the flight train failed to release from the launch vehicle pin at the normal launch position. During attempts to maneuver into a favorable location to terminate the launch event, an uncommanded gondola release occurred. The significant catenary caused the payload to impact the ground and cross winds dragged the payload forward under the balloon. While the gondola sustained severe structural and electronics systems damage, the dewar and sensors appeared to be intact..."
We are still waiting some response from Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility on regard the continuation or not of the campaign, and the future of the HERO telescope which was next on the launch queue.
Back to Australia, Eric Bellm, member of the NCT team, and responsable of Dispatches from the Field a blog he run to tell the world about the project, a few hours before living Alice Spring wrote a post entitled "Goodbye, Alice" reflecting the mood of the moment the team is passing.
I'm reproducing it here because I think Eric's (on behalf his team) made a perfect synthesis of what scientific ballooning is:
"...Obviously this was not the outcome I -we- were working so hard towards. Nevertheless, I believe the NCT team has reason to be very proud of our efforts. It was a huge challenge to turn around and fly again on a new continent less than a year after our New Mexico campaign. Ingenuity, perseverance, and effective teamwork were all crucial in overcoming the obstacles we encountered. On the way, we had help from many people who proved uniformly capable, friendly, and supportive. The instrument we rolled out to the launch pad two weeks ago was fully prepared to do excellent science..."
"...I am saddened, though, by the reach of the media coverage of our launch failure. Videos of accidents have a huge visceral impact, so these images will be more viewed and remembered than those from the many successful launches CSBF conducts in the USA, Sweden, Australia, and Antarctica each year. The impression created -that NASA's balloon program is out of control and wasteful- could not be more false. For many types of astronomy, stratospheric balloons provide the lowest-cost, most efficient access to space, costing ten or a hundred times less than satellites which can take a decade longer to prepare. Balloon scientists build affordable telescopes which do cutting-edge science, enriching our understanding of the universe we live in. The CSBF personnel perform inherently challenging balloon launches with extraordinary capability, exquisite professionalism, and remarkable good humor..."
"...I started this blog two years ago as a way to share what I was learning about stratospheric ballooning with my friends and family. After the roller coaster of emotions these campaigns have brought, I continue to be convinced of the compelling story presented by this remarkable scientific enterprise. It has been a privilege to share its drama, excitement, and culture with a broader audience..."
If this were a movie end, I can imagine the echoes of the last words of Eric along with a image fading to black of the huge banner hanging in the integration building at NASA's base in Fort Sumner: "Real scientists do it on balloons".
The end. The end ?
Great success for pre-Concordiasi campaign - 5/12/2010
Toulouse, France.- Two of the three balloons launched on last Febraury from the Airport of Mahe, in Seychelles Islands, were taken down in the last couple of days.
According to the information received, the balloon launched on Febraury 19 (nomenclated as PSC1 that can be seen in the image bellow during the prelaunch preparations) was terminated over the Indian Ocean on May 8 after 78 days of flight, being followed three days later by the MSD1 balloon which originally was launched on Febraury 8. The later ended his days somewhere over the Sea of China achieving a total flight time of 91 days.
The only balloon that is still in flight MSD2, could be taken down after in late May. Both the scientific instruments and their associated systems (as solar panels) performed flawlessly during all the flights.
The objective of the campaign -which in fact ended a few days after the last launch in Febraury- was to fly these balloons in the inter-tropical belt to provide useful information on the performance of the various scientific instruments and complementary components like solar panels and so on, which later will be used during the full fledged Concordiasi campaign meant to launch 20 balloons, from McMurdo station in Antarctica in next October.
The balloons were all 12 meters in diameter, of the superpressure type (closed cells), which after achieving their float altitude of 20 kms, remain aloft in more or less the same altitude along his whole useful life. The payloads carried by PSC1 were a ozone photometer developed by the Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique a particle counter developed by the University of Wyoming, and humidity and temperature sensors while MSD's payloads were composed by the CNES service gondolas (also present in the PSC1), the humidity and temperature sensors and a driftsonde gondola carrying up to 40 dropsondes, containing each of them sensors to measure temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction. At will of the scientists of the project whom are monitoring the flight from the Balloon Control Centre at Toulouse Space Centre in France, a signal is sent to drop a sonde, which descends slowly with a parachute and sends measurements back to the gondola twice every second. The gondola then transmits the information to a satellite, which in turn relays it back to Toulouse.
We wish to thanks Patrick Ragazzo from CNES by the information provided.
:: Concordiasi official site at MeteoFrance server
:: Pre-Concordiasi page at LMD web site
French campaign continues in the Arctic - 5/11/2010
Kiruna, Sweden.- The stratospheric balloon launch campaign carried out by the Balloon Division of the French Space Agency CNES the Swedish base of Esrange is progressing at full steam. Since our last update 20 days ago, four more balloons were launched, two of them with scientific objectives and the remaining with technological aims. Below we give a brief summary of the recent developments.
The first mission of this phase of the campaign was launched at 6:54 utc on April 25 under a balloon measuring 400.000 m3. The instrument onboard was LPMA (Limb Profile Monitor of the Atmosphere) whose core is a Fourier transform Infra Red spectrometer mounted on a gondola with a very precise pointing system. In the configuration flown in this mission -called SWIR- the instrument made nadir measurements of the thermal atmospheric emission of the surface/atmosphere system in order to calibrate and validate measurements obtained by the GOSAT satellite. After a flight of eight hours the payload landed north of Porttipahdan Tekojarvi lake, in Finland.
On April 29 was the turn for a multi-instrument mission. The 35.000 m3 balloon was uneventfull launched at 17:29 utc carriying onboard several instruments. The main payload was composed by Mini-SAOZ + ISAO CE being the first a new light version of the SAOZ spectrometer in his first test flight, and the second an improved and lighter version of the ISAO electric field probe. Also were part of the flight train SP2 a new frost-point hygrometer using a surface acoustic wave sensor which was designed to work on future long duration superpressure-balloon flights and LDLE (Lunar Dust Lifting Experiment) a set of two electric field antennas, that use different principles for the measurement of electric fields. The flight also endured eight hours and the payload was recovered 20 km east of Kautokeino in Norway.
As we already mentioned these two scientific flights included onboard as a "piggy back" payload the STAC instrument that measures the concentration of aerosols between the high troposphere and the middle stratosphere.
At 6:40 utc on May 3 was launched the third technological mission -no details were given so far- using a 12.000 m3 Zodiac balloon totalizing a flight time of near 90 minutes and being terminated north od Esrange. Finally, the more recent mission was carried out on May 6 when at 14:35 utc was launched another 12sf balloon that after a flight time of 2 hours delivered his payload in a point NE of Vittangijarvi Lake, in Sweden.
:: Swedish Space Corporation website
:: La campagne ballons continue a Kiruna information in French from the CNES website