Two new balloon launches in NASA's campaign - 7/24/2007
Palestine, Texas.- After the failed attempt on past week, another two balloons were launched from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in the framework of the summer campaign.
The first mission designated as flight 1594PT (number originally assigned to the failed test launch, wich in turn became known as Abort #19) transported a instrument called LEE (Low Energy Electrons) which measures the energy spectrum of comic ray electrons. The flight started a few minutes after midnight on July 19th (according to UTC time) and lasted until 5:40 UTC when the payload was separated from the balloon and landed southwest of San Angelo, Texas. Also was included on a flight test a new CSBF device called MIP (Micro Electronic Package).
The last flight was acomplished on July 23th. It was the engineering flight test of FIREBALL (Faint Intergalactic-medium Redshifted Emission Balloon) an instrument developed as a cooperative effort between Columbia University, California Institute of Technology, France's Laboratorie Astronomie Marseille (LAM) and their space agency CNES. The flight had a duration of near 6 hours and the payload, after being succesfully separated from the balloon, landed west of San Angelo, Texas.
FIREBALL (see the sketch at right) is a one-meter telescope designed to discover and map the faint emissions from the Intergalactic Medium on the Ultraviolet spectrograph, something impossible to do from the ground level. Also will be performed several observations on ultra-low surface brightness phenomena including galactic winds and gaseous halos, Lyman alpha emitters, low surface brightness galaxies, old stellar populations in galactic halos and faint galactic interstellar emission.
According to the information provided by Sarah Tuttle, graduate student on the project, the flight was good at all but unfortunately a failure in the pivot system that controls the telescope pointing system prevented the scientific team to stop the slow spin of the telescope due to the balloon natural motion. Nevertheless, the rest of the systems of the instrument worked flawlessly, and as the gondola was recovered without any damage, it's possible to get a chance of a reflight soon.
A new book on MANHIGH program - 7/17/2007
This year mark the 50th anniversary of the MANHIGH project, a technological feat that until now passed unnoticed in the mass media although the importance of the program as a steping stone of the man in the space.
Now, adding more balance to the situation Schiffer Publishing just released "Touching Space: The Story of the Project Manhigh" a book writen by Gregory P. Kennedy, former Director at the Space Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico and author of another historical book about Germany's V-2 Rocket (also by Schiffer).
We at StratoCat had the honour to read the book and really we enjoyed every paragraph, so in our humble opinion this book is a "must have" for any person with interest in the subject of ballooning as well in astronautics. Along the 128 pages of the book, Kennedy makes a deep dive in the history of the program, but not only that: also he offers a contextual introduction to the manned exploration of the stratosphere. The book's first three chapters are devoted to the early aerial pioneers like Charles, De Rozier, Blanchard, Jeffries, Coxwell, Glaisher and the spanish Herrera, the discovery of the cosmic rays by Victor Hess, ending with the famous flights made by the Piccard twins in Europe and Northamerica and the two Explorer ascensions from the Stratobowl in the 30's.
Few people know that the origin of Manhigh can be traced back to 1947, when was started the era of the plastic balloon. That's is the topic of the next two chapters, centered mainly in the projects of those years like "Gopher", the Navy "Skyhook" and the first balloon-borne cosmic ray studies using animals. This last research soon would lead to the next logical step: to use instead animals a human pilot. So entering in the "core" of the book, chapter 6 shows the development of the program and introduces the first test flight -known as Manhigh I- which is covered in full length in chapter 7. Then continues logically with the second flight -really the first scientific one- covered in extreme detail on chapter 8 and the last one -Manhigh III- closing the program on the next.
Ending the book, the author makes an in-deep analysis of the post-Manhigh projects and the reasons of the closing of the program. Three appendix add information on several related topics including similar programs being run in parallel with the Air Force project.
As a result of the research done by him, Kennedy gives to its readers a book extremely well documented, plenty of human and technical details on the program, much of them not widely known. The reading is easy, being oriented to the general public, without technical complexities but at the same time explaining each topic deeply, helping to build in the lector a complete figure of the dimension of the task undertaken with the technology then available. As a final note we can say that the book goal to emphasize the human factor of the entire project is fully accomplished: it portrays perfectly the anger and decision of the man involved on the program, from pilots and managers to meteorologists risking careers and lives putting hardware and men under space conditions. These men deserves all the honour and gratefulness from nowadays space conquest actors, because in the time when the only access to space were the tiny and primitive first satellites, -as can be read in the book's epilogue- "...they were the space program...".
The book is available directly from Schiffer Books
Test balloon failed before release - 7/14/2007
Palestine, Texas.- We at StratoCat learned something was wrong with the launch of the heavy load test balloon being tested by NASA's balloon program, when the legend "launch aborted" appeared in the tracking website of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.
Now confirming that fact, the local newspaper "Palestine Herald" published that on Wednesday evening's (July 11th) take place a failed attempt to test launch a 37-million cubic foot. This balloon (numbered as 1594PT) was intended to carry a dummy load near 8000 pounds. "...We had to put 15,000 pounds of helium into the balloon, which puts a lot of stress and strain on it..." said Danny Ball, CSBF's operations manager. The balloon appeared to fill normally, but problems arose when it was released upward, the step done prior to releasing the payload to fly. "...When it (the balloon) came out of the spool, it destroyed itself,..." Ball said to the press. "...We learned what we were trying to learn how reliable it's going to be...", adding that the incident will have to be taken into account as scientists plan future flights. "...We probably have to expect a higher probability of failure..."
Also the weather was not much cooperative with heavy rain showers hitting the county that delayed the launch schedule.
See complete history at Palestine Herald's web site
Summer balloon launch campaign in Texas - 7/2/2007
Palestine, Texas.- This summer, this small town of Texas, where is located the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility will have a great amount of activity with the ongoing launch campaign and the integration efforts of the payloads that will be take part in the next Antarctic Campaign.
The first balloon of the campaign was launched successfully at 13:06 utc on June 21. The objective of the flight was to put in the stratosphere for the first time a experiment called GRAPE (Gamma-Ray Polarimeter Experiment) consisting in a hard X-ray Compton Polarimeter for measuring the polarization of hard X-rays in the 50-300 keV energy range. The scientific team is particularly interested in to Study X-rays that are emitted from solar flares and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), although GRAPE could also be employed in the study of other astrophysical sources.
The total flight time was of a little more than 9 hours and the payload landed after the flight in a point located 30 nautic miles southeast of Post, Texas. The balloon used was a 11.000.000 cuft of the same type and fabrication origin as the used in the failed flights of the Sweden Campaign this same year. The objective of his use was to determine if it would perform successfully in a normal atmosphere. Also, as part of the payload was included a device called Micro-Instrumentation Package (MIP) currently being tested by the CSBF personnel.
Beside the launch activity currently are in palestine as well the scientific and technical teams of CREST, ATIC and BESS preparing their payloads for the next Antarctic campaign and the student team that will take part of the second HASP (High Altitude Student Platform) project flight in september in Fort Sumner.