Still no data on the recent ULDB failure - 6/25/2009
Kiruna, Sweden.- No word has been spoken yet by anyone, around the failed balloon flight of the ULDB (Ultra Long Duration Balloon) which was prematurely terminated on June 22th a few kilometers SW of the launch base. The super pressure balloon developed by NASA under a a program which ultimate objective is to provide 100 days of flight at a stable altitude transporting heavy payloads in mid latitudes, was launched at 1:01 UTC from the the Swedish base of ESRANGE near Kiruna to perform a Transatlantic mission to Canada, but due to unknown reasons it was terminated four hours later. According to the flight path, the payload landed in the north border of the Sjaunja Reservation southwest of Kiruna.
Until the moment, no information was published neither by NASA nor by the Swedish Space Corporation althought the later offered detailed coverage and even images of the other missions of the campaign at their web site.
The mission -dubbed as flight 599NT- was intended to test a 400,000 cubic meter balloon in fly from Sweden to Canada. This size approximately doubled the volume of the successful balloon flown from Antarctica early this year, which set a ner endurance record for heavy flights there and was so far, the more succesfull of the entire ULDB program. Composed of 230 gores, was designed to fly at 110,000 ft carrying a suspended load of near 2000 kg. The main goals of this test flight would be to full deploy at float, and then make the Atlantic crossing at constant altitude.
Following the new approach of NASA's developmental team, an indoor testing of a model similar to this was performed at the end of 2008 in an old airship hangar in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The test objective was to replicate the balloon to be flown in the Transatlantic crossing with a ~30 m diameter model with 230 gores and a 29 degrees equatorial lobe angle. According to NASA sources, the indoor performance of this balloon was exceptional.
The answer to whether it was a deployment issue, a balloon burst or a failure in the flight hardware, will come with NASA official word. We must wait until then and see how this prematurelly terminated mission may affect or not the development of the ULDB program.
Balloon launch campaign from Japan, finished - 6/24/2009
Hokkaido, Japan.- With the third and last launch, has come to an end the first scientific balloon campaign carried out by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA, at their brand new launch site located in the Multipurpose Air Park in Taiki, Hokkaido Island. The balloon measuring 300.000 cubic meters of volume was launched at 3:58 local time on June 18 using the airship hangar for inflation (image) and sliding the platform outside. The craft ascended at 300 meters for second and reached the float altitude of 38.5 kilometers of altitude when was 250 km off the coast of Taiki.
The purpose of the flight was to transport an instrument called PHENEX (Polarimetry for High ENErgy X rays) developed by Yamagata University, Osaka University, RIKEN and JAXA. It consists of a Compton-scattering-type polarimeter sensitive in the energy range from 40 keV to 200 keV which was put in the stratosphere to observe the hard X Rays coming from the Crab Nebula. This was the second flight of the instrument after a first engineering test flight from Sanriku in 2006.
At 14:45 local time the separation command was sent and the payload landed safely in the sea 15 km from the coast of Tokachi, in front of Shiranuka, from where was recovered by a fishing vessel.
With this experiment was closed the first scientific campaign at Taiki. The next will be carried out in the Fall, starting in mid October.
Data obtained by SUNRISE telescope, secured - 6/22/2009
Somerset Island, Canada.- After a week of tense work, the hard disks containing probably the sharpests and more detailed images ever obtained of the Sun by a telescope on Earth, were secured by a team of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, yesterday June 21.
The images were taken during the six day long flight from Sweden to Canada of SUNRISE, a light-weight solar telescope created to make spectro-polarimetric observations of the atmosphere of our Sun. It was developed by a cooperative effort between Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research & Katlenburg-Lindau Kiepenheuer-Institut für Sonnenphysik (Germany) High Altitude Observatory & Lockheed-Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory (USA) Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial, Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Grupo de Astronomía y Ciencias del Espacio de la Universidad de Valencia e Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Spain).
The balloon which transported the solar telescope was launched from the Swedish base of "ESRANGE" near Kiruna on June 8th and landed in the southern part of Somerset Island five days later.
The northernward than expected route followed by all the balloons launched on transatlantic missions this year, complicated the recovery process in all missions, but specially on SUNRISE: althought the CSBF team was able to fly over the landing site with a plane twice, a thick layer of clouds blocked their sight. However, two signs bringed some calm to the scientific team that the payload was in good shape: in one of the passes over the area the chase crew sighted the parachute resting on the ground away from the gondola, and at the same time the Palestine Operations Center in Texas continued receiving signals from the Iridium system of SUNRISE for an extended period after impact, indicating that it was in good condition.
More information on the SUNRISE details and pictures of the flight can be seen in the detailed report we just published on the mission.
EBEX flight closed an intense launch campaign - 6/15/2009
Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- More like a rocket than a balloon, the maiden flight of the EBEX instrument ended tonight at 21:40 local time, a few kilometers northeast from Lake Havasu in the western side of Arizona, close to the border of California, in the southwestern of United States.
The trip of more than 13 hours was the culmination of a project started at University of Minnesota's Physics and astronomy group a few years ago and of an integration and preparation effort at the launch base of more than two months.
The balloon was launched from the Fort Sumner Airport in New Mexico, at 8:01 local time (14:01 UTC) and after a nominal ascent phase with a eastward flight path, it reached float altitude of near 117.000 ft and mounted onto the Jet Stream and following a very arrow-like straight course crossed the sky of New Mexico and Arizona.
As ocurred last month with the flight of the NCT telescope (see bellow) thousands of people in cities like Albuquerque, Prescott, Phoenix and all the zone of the Northwest of the Valley in Arizona watching the sky enjoyed a sight that mesmerized them as well flooded again with calls asking for an answer the telephones of Tv and Radio stations on the area. Even our website received messages asking for the nature of what was being seen in the southwestern sky (Folks! remember I'm living in Southamerica (Ed.)).
EBEX (acronym for E and B EXperiment) is a balloon-borne polarimeter designed to measure the intensity and polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, what in short is some kind of residual "noise" originated at the time of the explosion that created the Universe. Measurements of the polarization of the CMB could probe the expansion that took place shortly after the big bang helping to know values of several cosmological parameters as well to provide helpful information on the levels of polarized Galactic dust for future CMB observations. It is a result of a cooperative effort of the afored mentioned University of Minnesota, along with Brown, Pennsylvania, Harvard, McGill, UC Berkeley, The International School for Advanced Studies and University of Rome, La Sapiensa, Italy, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, Laboratoire Astroparticule et Cosmologie and Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale from France, University of Wales - Cardiff and the University of Toronto in Canada.
I've used in the title of this post the word "intense" because probably for some of you the expression I originally was going to use ("dramatic") could sound excessive. In case you disagree I invite you to take your time to read a few posts of "EBEX in flight" the BLOG run during the entire campaign by Asad Aboobaker a member of the team. There you will have a first hand chronicle of all the agonic, boring, exciting, relaxing, tense, thrilling and endless moments that form that what is called "a balloon campaign".
But let's go back to the flight happenings. Apparently the launch went off without complications (yesterday's was the fourth attempt to put EBEX in the stratosphere) but soon after released the payload by the launch vehicle (picture right) was evident that something in EBEX attitude was not right because before launch the elevation of the telescope was set at 60 degrees, but at the time of the initial climb the elevation was observed to be extremely low. The fact was confirmed once the balloon was at float: by still not known reasons the elevation actuator was broken and the elevation of the telescope was frozen at 15 degrees, meaning that while EBEX could still do the planned observations, it will be limited in flexibility to choose when and where to look. Additionally a malfunction on the star camera (used to focus in the choosen zones of the sky) complicated more the operation. On the other hand, the rest of the instrument (detectors, ACS sensors and so on) seemed to be working flaweslly.
Not good. Not Bad.
The recovery operations started while the balloon still was in the air by the staff of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and part of the EBEX team that drove all the way to Arizona following the balloon. After landing of the gondola the CSBF pilot and some other recovery crew members already in Lake Havasu flew from there to search for the payload which was fast located resting on its back, in the middle of an empty private parcel and at short distance from a road, near Yucca, Arizona. As the soil near the impact site was very loose and sandy, the recovery truck got stuck, delaying the operations which were completed on June 15, when the payload was returned to Fort Sumner.
A detailed report of the instrument and the flight including images and maps can be seen clicking here
AESOP landed in Canada - 6/10/2009
Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.- The second transatlantic flight of the summer campaign being carried out from the European Space Range base near Kiruna, Sweden, ended today June 10th, minutes after 15:00 utc. The balloon transported the AESOP (Anti-Electron Sub Orbital Payload) instrument developed by the Delaware University to measure the energy spectrum of cosmic rays electrons using a permanent magnet and a spark chamber hodoscope to determine their charge sign.
The mission was launched on June 6th at 22:05 UTC (image at left) and after a nominal ascent phase, the balloon reached float altitude on June 7th at 1:10 UTC starting the Atlantic crossing that endured 3 days and 17 hours. Besides the fact that at launch part of the solar panels were apparently damaged, according to NASA sources the instrument performed very well during the entire trip.
The termination of the flight occured in the southwestern part of the Ellesmere Island. Rescue operation is underway by a team of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility deployed a few days ago to Yellowknife.
This was the second flight to Canada of the instrument after a first succesful flight three years ago.
A FIREBALL that flew from New Mexico to Utah - 6/9/2009
Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- After a trip of near 22 hours at a mean height of 125.000 ft, was terminated a few minutes after 16:00 utc of today June 9th, the second balloon flight of the US-French telescope FIREBALL, an instrument devoted to detect and map UV emission from the Intergalactic Medium. At right can be seen the map showing the flight path of the balloon (click to enlarge).
As the FIREBALL mission scientific requeriments called for a nocturnal flight at float altitude, the balloon was launched at noon. It is allways a risk because the winds are often higher than in the morning, nevertheless, according to members of the EBEX team (the last mission to be launched from Fort Sumner) at the moment of the launch the winds were actually quite low. An apparently minor incident occured during the launch process when the gondola was released: while the balloon was pulling up the payload, the launch vehicle started to backing away, but while ascending FIREBall hit the launch pin, scraping along the doors that cover the telescope. The scene can be seen in an excelent footage obtained by Asad Aboobaker and which can be seen at VIMEO website.
Besides the noise produced was somewhat disturbing and the FIREBALL scientific team was concerned about the possibility of a permanent damage which would prevented to open the doors to perform the planned observations, the fact is that nothing bad occured and finally the instrument managed to stay all the night at float looking to the sky.
More information on FIREBALL and pictures of the launch can be seen in the detailed report of the flight we just published.