BEXUS flights for 2011, succesfuly completed - 9/30/2011
Kiruna, Sweden.- Six student teams of four different european countries meet during the last half of September at the stratospheric balloon base of ESRANGE, east of Kiruna, as part of the BEXUS effort. The initiative, whose acronym means Balloon Experiments for University Students allows students to create small payloads that are mounted in a specially built gondola and launched to the stratosphere in a balloon. The main objective is to offer the students a medium to gain their own practical experiences in preparing and carrying out projects in space. It started in 2002 first as a Swedish only program but evolved and incorporated new partners so nowadays it's a German/Swedish project carried out under a bilateral Agency Agreement between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB). The Swedish share of the payload has been made available to students from other European countries through a collaboration with the European Space Agency.
This year missions were BEXUS-12 and BEXUS-13 and were succesfully launched, on September 27 and 28 respectivelly. The first balloon was launched at 17:37 utc and after reaching a float altitude of 27 km was terminated 4 hours later, landing East of Pello, in Finland, while the second one was released at 15:21 utc the next day and after flying a little more than three hours at 24 km landed also in Finland, northwest of Rovaniemi. Both missions used balloons of 12.000 m3 of volume.
The experiments included on board each mission were the following:
LITOS (Leibniz Institute Turbulence Observations in the Stratosphere) developed by a team from the Kühlungsborn Institute of Atmospheric Physics (Germany) working on atmospheric turbulence. The team studied gusts of wind just a few millimetres in size, which help give insight into the physical processes that go on in our atmosphere.
CoCoRAD (Combined TriTel/Pille Cosmic Radiation and Dosimetric Measurements) an experiment from Hungary's Budapest University team focused on measurements of the atmosphere's radiation fields.
VEXREDUS (Vehicle with EXtended REentry Duration) a glider developed by students from the University of Stuttgart (Germany) that conducted autonomous flight and navigated its own way back to its take-off point in Esrange.
MARVEL (Martian Airborne Research Vehicle) a second unmanned flying machine developed by students of the Technical University of Lulea (Sweden), the test flight's main focus was the atmospheric conditions in the stratosphere, which are similar to those on Mars.
ARCADE (Autonomous Rendezvous Control And Docking Experiment), an experiment led by students from Padova University (Italy), aimed to carry out docking manoeuvres on the BEXUS-13 flight. They tried uncoupling a test unit from the balloon basket and then docking it back on autonomously.
RETA (Radiation Exposure in the Atmosphere) developed by students at Kiel University (Germany) focused on measuring radiation levels. The team investigated to what point radiation levels depend on the height of the balloon and the Sun's activity in northern latitudes.
Both balloon launches were conducted by SSC personel throught EuroLaunch, a cooperation between SSC and the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR. They were also responsible for the campaign management and operations of the launch vehicles. Experts from ESA, SSC and DLR provided technical support to the student teams throughout the project.
Four more balloons launched in New Mexico - 9/29/2011
Fort Sumner, New Mexico The last half of September was a very busy time at NASA's Scientific Balloon Flight Facility, in Fort Sumner, the main active base of the balloon program of the agency.
After several scrubbed attempts the previous week, on September 17 took place the launch of COFE (Cosmic Foreground Explorer), an instrument developed by the University of California, Santa Barbara along with several institutions from Brazil and Italy, which is devoted to perform measurements of the polarization characteristics of galactic foregrounds at microwave frequencies below 40 GHz. The mission (numbered 623N) started at 14:40 utc, and after climbing without troubles to float altitude of 109.000 ft, developed a westward path to Arizona, where it was terminated after 23 hours aloft. Payload landed SE of Phoenix.
Then, followed several days of inadecquate launch conditions (high winds with forecasts of low times at float) that impossed a halt in operations. By September 22 the weather improved, but taking account of the weather opportunities and the tight schedule of flights, decision was taken to launch two balloons the same day. Early in the morning the next day was rolled out in the "Big Bill" launch vehicle an instrument developed by scientists of the New Hampshire University called GRAPE (Gamma Ray Polarimeter Experiment). The main goal of this apparatus is to study the polarization of gamma rays from the Crab Pulsar. Mission 624N started at 14:23 utc (at right there is an image of the moment of the release that we managed to obtain through the webcam of the airport) and after 2 hours of ascent, the balloon stabilized at 126.000 ft of altitude, heading toward Texas. Meanwhile back in Fort Sumner the next payload to be launched -as mission 625N was taken from the high bay and rolled out to the launch pad. This time it was an experiment developed by the Jet Propulsion laboratory devoted to measure key chemical compounds in the stratosphere. After an hour of inflation, the balloon was released exactly at 17:50 utc and as ocurred with the one launched that morning, followed an eastward flight path.
Due to the clear skies on the area, thousands of Texans were delighted with the presence of the balloons in the sky at sunset. The show forced the office of the National Weather Service in Lubbock to publish a press release at their website . Also our good friend David Tremblay obtained nice shots of the gas bags from his home at Ruidoso (NM) including a picture that enclosed both balloons at once. Both missions were terminated the next day: while the New Hampshire payload landed north of Paducah, Texas after 28 hours aloft, the JPL instrument make a more length trip to Oklahoma, landing a few miles northeast of Fairview, after 25 hours of flight.
Last mission (626N) acomplished in the ongoing campaign was devoted to test a new model of balloon named SF490 and took place on September 25. Althought the mission was shorten than we expected, we were delighted with the images transmited by a camera mounted in the so called "Thunderbird" gondola, which is used on technological flights.
In some moments of the flight the camera was aimed to the ground allowing to see the cars moving along the towns 120kft below.
Finally, the flight was terminated over northwestern Texas at 19:30 utc but the system continued sending images while descending under the parachute until 26 kft: at that altitude the signal was lost due to the fact that the payload was too low in the horizont.
Failure and end for balloon launch campaign in Japan - 9/16/2011
Taiki, Japan.- Japan Space Agency tested in flight a few days ago a new balloon made -according to the press release- of the thinest envelope in the world. The balloon's skin was manufactured using a polyethylene film measuring only 2.8 microns that in theory would allow to reach the highest altitudes ever. In fact, Japan holds the current height record of 53 km since 2002.
The balloon was launched from the Taiki Aerospace Research Field, in the Hokkaido island, on September 14. Ascent went nominal until the moment when the balloon reached 14.7 km altitude. The craft leveled there and then started a slowly but steady descent. As the balloon could deviate from the planed dropzone, decision was taken to terminate the mission, but after sending the end of flight command, during the descent the balloon was taken by the Jet Stream over the Pacific Ocean. Althought the balloon was lost, the impact point with the sea surface was estimated to be located 330 km ESE from the launch base.
No information was given on the reason of the failure, but the tiny press release mentioned that a deep investigation will be started on regard the recurrent failures and issues that the balloon design suffered.
The remaining flight of the campaign -devoted to test a new command and telemetry system- was cancelled, and will be carried out the next year.
Second consecutive flight for HASP - 9/14/2011
Fort Sumner, New Mexico The second mission of the HASP (High Altitude Student Payload) program took place from NASA's Scientific Balloon Flight Facility, in Fort Sumner, on September 8.
The mission profile for flight 622N was similar to the one performed on August 31, on regard the platform and balloon size. The balloon was launched at 8:09 am local time (13:09 utc) and the ascent to float altitude of 122.000 feet endured a little more than two hours.
As occured with the first flight of the project, the balloon acquired a westward route crossing the north part of New Mexico to Arizona where at 6:00 utc of the next day the mission was terminated. The payload landed in a point located northwest of the small town of Burnside as can be seen in the map at left (click to enlarge).
The HASP project aim is to provide a near space platform to allow students to conceive, build, test and flight their own experiments (see details in our previous entries). On this mission were included artifacts from the University of North Dakota, University of North Florida, Pennsylvania State University, the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Alberta from Canada.
More details on each payload can be obtained visiting the website of the Louisiana Space Consortium which is the institution in charge of the project.
As occured in all the flights of the HASP effort since the inception of the project, onboard the gondola was also mounted a special built video camera developed by Rocket Science, Inc. called Cosmocam. This device uses a web interface to allow internauts to control the movements and focus of the camera. Although at first glance seems to be a very common feature for today's network standards, the amazing side of the device is his operation environment: it is turned on when the balloon is launched.
Recently Cosmocam made a big upgrade incorporating a High Definition camera which increased dramatically the sharpness and beauty of the images taken. As a proof take a look at the 23 minutes long video taken during the last HASP flight, from the moment of launch until the balloon reached float altitude at 123.000 feet. By far one of the best balloon video shoots we had seen, ever.