75th Anniversary of the Explorer II balloon flight - 9/22/2010
Stratobowl (SD), United States.- This year marks the 75 anniversary of the flight of the "Explorer II" balloon, the flight that closed the era of the stratospheric manned ascents before the onset of the World War II and the discovery of the polyethilene as a light material to make balloons. The ascent took place on November 10 1935, and was piloted by Captain O. A. Anderson and Captain A. W. Stevens from ther United States Army Air Corps under sponsorship of the National Geographic Society. The flight started from a natural depression located outside of Rapid City, South Dakota called then "the Stratoport" and later popularized as the "Stratobowl" on November 10, 1935. The crew ascended to a then new record altitude of 72.400 ft and and covered 362 kilometres. Total flight time was 8 hours and 13 minutes.
As an anticipated celebration, on September 24-26, 2010, a small group of hot air balloonists will set sail and venture aloft from the original location of the first stratospheric balloon launched 75 years ago. According to the organization's website the objective of the event is to mark the anniversary of the first of many records which have since been broken, like the first photograph of the stratosphere or the largest rubber gas balloon ever built.
CONCORDIASI campaign: 3 balloons in flight 1 down - 9/20/2010
McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- The CONCORDIASI campaign (see bellow for details) is progressing well and in the last week, another two balloons were launched, PSC17 in September 14, and PSC14 the next day. Both flights achieved float altitude without problems and are making their first circle around the pole.
On September 16 the French team faced a problem with the link between the safety and scientific gondolas of the first balloon launched (PSC15) which ceased to function. As the trajectory forecast showed that the balloon would pass near the station at the end of the first circle, it was decided to terminate the flight in a safe place for the recovery of the gondolas securing the data that have been recorded onboard. The termination command was sent during the night on September 17 in close coordination with the long-duration balloon Control Center, located in the Toulouse Space Center, in France. According to the onboard locators, the payload landed a merely 80 km from McMurdo station, after 8 days and 19 hours of flight.
The revovery will be attempted in the next days, as soon the station helicopters were able to fly.
On regard the next balloons to be launched, preparations are under way, but weather conditions are deteriorating a bit.
First two CONCORDIASI balloons launched from McMurdo - 9/13/2010
McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- After a preparation of less than a month the French team deployed to McMurdo Station in Antarctica succeeded in launch the first two balloons of the CONCORDIASI research campaign. Another 17 superpressure balloons similar to the ones that currently are traveling over the white continent at 20 km of altitude will follow in the next month.
At right we can see an image of the first balloon which was launched on the early morning of September 9. The flight (nomenclated PSC-15) was intended to study the mechanism of formation of polar stratospheric clouds through several instruments that hanged from the flight train: pressure, humidity and temperature sensors, a particule counter developed by the University of Wyoming and an Ozonometer from the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD). The second flight (PSC-16) was launched on the afternoon of September 11, after an aborted attempt that same day which forced to destroy the balloon in the platform due to a sudden increase of the wind speed. The payload transported by this second balloon is similar to the first one but the ozonometer, which in this flight was changed by a similar instrument developed by the University of Colorado. The trajectories of the balloons can be followed online throught the website of the LMD.
Since the moment on which the first payloads were ready to flight, the main difficult that the french team faced was the weather, still violent in this time of the year, that forced them to stay inside their laboratory in some circunstances when the wind speed provoke a wind chill of -70ºc.
The ongoings of the campaign can be followed throught a detailed weblog updated almost daily by members of the team on the ice, and a more detailed description of the Campaign's aim can be obtained visiting the website of the project at Meteofrance server.
End for the balloon launch campaign in Japan - 9/8/2010
Taiki, Hokkaido.- The last balloon of the campaign carried out by the Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa) at the Multipurpose Air Park in Taiki, Hokkaido Island, was launched on September 8, carrying a payload composed by a ozone measurement device and an instrument to detect atmospheric gravity waves.
The flight (nomenclated BS10-06) started at 5:38 Japan Standard Time and after a nominal ascent phase of near two hours the balloon reached float altitude of 46.8 km while over the Pacific Ocean 80 km from the shoreline. The balloon had a volume of 60.000 m3 and was made of a ultra-thin (3.4 microns) film of polyethilene specially created to reach extremes altitudes.
After the scientific portion of the flight was completed, the termination command was transmited separating the balloon and the payload, which under a parachute impacted the Ocean surface at 8:20 local time.
The mission served as a confirmation of the good performance of the balloon made of the newly developed thin film as well allowed to obtain the first ozone measurements from the new JAXA base. These same missions were routinelly carried out from the old base in Sanriku in the past.
A week before, on September 1st, another mission took place at Taiki with the launch of an improved version of the BOV (Balloon-based Operation Vehicle) used to obtain artificial microgravity for scientific purposes. Alike the previous flights, this BOV mission counted with the addition of an air-breathing engine called "S-Engine", essential to compensate rapidly increasing air-drag extending the microgravity phase up to 60 seconds of duration. At right can be seen an image of the balloon carrying the BOV vehicle while ascending.
The balloon with a volume of 300.000 m3 was launched at 4:48 local time, and after a initial ascent phase it reached float altitude of 37.6 km while was flying over the Pacific Ocean 40 km away the shoreline. Once in the predetermined impact area, at 7:04 was transmited the command to separate BOV from the balloon gondola starting the fall. After completed the mission a ship started the search and by 9:00 local time BOV was retrieved from the sea surface and transported back to Taiki.
On regard the performance of the vehicle we contacted Dr. Tatsuaki Hashimoto the principal investigator of the project who tell us that S-engine successfully burned in supersonic region. However, due to a problem of the data gathering system, engine parameters were not received. Now, the team is analyzing the GPS and gyroscopes data to confirm the S-Engine performance.
ARCA Team: No success but do not surrender - 9/1/2010
Black Sea, Romania.- If there is anything remarkable in the titanic effort of the Romanian ARCA team to launch their balloons is the constancy, backed by a strong funding scheme. Failure after failure they no give up and if some aproach proves no adecquate they simple move on, change and try another. Let's remember who are these guys.
ARCA stands for Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association, and is a non-governmental organization, that promotes innovative aerospace projects in their country, from suborbital capsules models and rockets to multirotor platforms. The balloon launches that they are trying to perform are part of the effort of the team to reach our natural satellite in the framework of the Google Lunar X PRIZE a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, make it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. For this mission the balloon serves as a "first stage" to send the rocket carrying the lunar probe to the stratosphere and from there launch it. In this way, the craft saves a lot of fuel and effort to beat the gravity in the more denses layers of the low atmosphere.
To save costs and as an innovative aproach ARCA decided to use "solar balloons" made of thin black film and filled with air instead helium. The necesary lift is obtained from the heating of the air inside the gasbag when the sun radiation starts to be absorbed by the black fabric. After a first succesfull flight to 14.000 ft that transported the STABILO I model performed at the Cape Midia Air Force Base in 2007 the rest of the test to launch a more avanced rocket model called HELEN to a higher atmospheric layer (this time from the surface of the Black Sea off the Romanian shore) encountered a problem that the team was unable to solve: the entanglement of the inflation tubes due to the powerful water currents in the surface. After two failures, ARCA announced in their web site that they will switch to a conventional zero pressure helium filled balloon which they will construct during July.
Thus in August, again with the support of the Romanian Navy the team was back in the Black Sea decided to launch the balloon from the rear deck of the CONSTANTA ship. But also this time the luck was not in their side and while the green (yes, green!) balloon was being inflated a tear appeared in the fabric that forced to cancel the operation.
Nevertheless, in a short message in their website, ARCA announced the construction of a second balloon to repeat the test in next October.
Will they succeed this time ? ... Stay tuned !