Romanian rocket not launched due to balloon failure - 11/17/2009
Constanta Naval Base, Black Sea.- After near a month of preparations at the Naval Base of the Romanian Navy in Constanta to launch the HELEN rocket, the civilian team of the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA) (a non-governmental organization, that promotes innovative aerospace projects in the country) was forced to cancel the flight, due to a failure during inflation of the solar balloon that would served as first stage.
The cause of the failure was traced to the powerful water currents who twisted the balloon inflation arms, stopping several times the inflating process. Althought the tubes that became entangled in the balloon body were cut to allow the continuation of the process, by late afternoon the entire operation was abandoned. The reason was simple: a launch with the sun high in the sky was mandatory as the main thrust for the balloon (filled with hot air as lifting gas) comes from the heating of the sun over the balloon's black fabric. No news were issued yet about where or when the test will be repeated.
The project aimed to test the HELEN rocket as part of the intention 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, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. The balloon meant to be used as a "first stage" to send the rocket 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. The concept is no new, really it was "invented" by the late Dr. James Van Allen wich baptized it as "Rockoon" and used it to send small Deacon rockets launched from the deck of small vessels to study cosmic rays back in the 50's.
Back to ARCAS, aside their Lunar X Prize involvement, they are developing several innovations on aerospace fields that are woth to mention and that range from suborbital capsules models and rockets to multirotor platforms. In the balloon side they succeeded to flight the largest solar balloons ever built and are working in a system called BASMATES - High Altitude Commercial Solar Balloon for Scientific Equipment devoted to constructing, launching and recovering a high altitude solar baloon and presurized capsule, built for transporting scientific and commercial payloads.
Soon in Stratocat we will return to see the ARCA balloon projects in more detail.
Meanwhile, you can obtain more information at:
:: ARCA web site
:: Google Lunar X-Prize
The amazing stratospheric chair - 11/16/2009
London, UK.- Toshiba presented this week a very creative and curious way to promote their new line of LCD's and Notebooks: to send a chair to the fringes of the space under a stratospheric balloon.
The ad shows a lonely chair similar to any chair we can find in any living room in the world, which silently floats in the upper atmosphere while the balloon ascend and was a creation of Grey London, which managed several others campaigns for the company in the past.
The balloon portion of the operations was managed by JP Aerospace a private firm from the United States with an extensive background in projects involving small sized balloons. The launch took place in the favourite spot of the company: the Nevada desert using a launch technique that resembled somewhat the "covered wagon" launch system used in the early 50's for some high altitude mission launches by the Air Force.
To reach the altitude required and to fill the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the weight of the "payload" had to be carefully managed to a weight of no more than four pounds. That forced to create specially for the flight a full-sized model chair made of biodegradable balsa wood which was rigged to a specially built arm where were mounted the Toshiba cameras used in the shooting. The gear counted too with four independent GPS systems to accurately record the chair's altitude and position.
The entire flight endured 83 minutes and reached a peak altitude of 98,268 feet, where the neoprene balloon burst. At that moment the chair broke and the cameras and the rest of the rigging fall to the desert under a parachute.
The full 60 second advert premiered on 16 November on ITV1 channel and will run for three weeks. The ad will then run again in February 2010. As far as we know is the first time that an stratospheric balloon is used in the process of filming a commercial ad.
:: JP Aerospace website
:: Space Chair commercial - at Toshiba's Youtube Channel
Published first images from SUNRISE balloon mission - 11/11/2009
"...A bubbling ball of gas..." is the title which summarizes the initial findings on data analysis derived from the first scientific flight of the SUNRISE telescope. The mission was acomplished in last June from Sweden to Canada onboard a stratospheric balloon that crossed the Atlantic Ocean at 130.000 feet of height. The preliminary data was presented today, through a press release issued by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, one of the institutions involved in the project.
"Packages of gas rise and sink, lending the sun its grainy surface structure, its granulation. Dark spots appear and disappear, clouds of matter dart up - and behind the whole thing are the magnetic fields, the engines of it all..." continued the somewhat poetic news item.
At right, we can see one of the sharp images of the Sun surface took by SUNRISE's IMAX instrument. The picture not only depicts the solar surface, it also makes magnetic fields visible; these appear as black or white structures in the polarised light. The extraordinary sensitivity of SUNRISE allows to measure even the tiniest magnetic fields on the surface of our star at a level of detail never before achieved.
The work of analysing the 1.8 terabytes of data recorded on the instrument's hard disks by SUNRISE its just beginning. Yet the first findings already give a promising indication that the mission will help to greatly improve the understanding that scientists have of the Sun and its activity.
According to the press release, "what is particularly interesting is the connection between the strength of the magnetic field and the brightness of tiny magnetic structures. Since the magnetic field varies in an eleven-year cycle of activity, the increased presence of these foundational elements brings a rise in overall solar brightness - resulting in greater heat input to the Earth".
The SUNRISE balloon mission was covered in deep detail by Stratocat. Clicking here you can see our detailed report of the flight along with a map of the flight path, images of the launch and a full description of the scientific instrument onboard.
HISentinel test at Page finally cancelled - 11/8/2009
Page Airport, Arizona.- After three unsuccesfull launch attempts the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) finally has given up on its intention to launch this season the HISentinel stratospheric airship, an aerial platform born from the effort with Aerostar International and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The operations were being carried out since middle October at the Page Municipal Airport, in northern Arizona.
Following the most recent cancellation on November 4 (due to problems with the craft's computer data system, which forced to delay the operations while new hardware arrived from California), the reason for the premature end of the campaign were the several problems that arose with the aviation authorities whom finally refused to allow the balloon/airship release. The campaign, in fact had already started during the fall campaign in early October at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility station in the Fort Sumner Municipal airport, and after almost one cancelled launch attempt the operations were moved to Arizona. Until now, we don't have information on were and when the operations will be resumed.
HiSentinel is the first airship developed under the Composite Hull High Altitude Powered Platform (CHHAPP) program, a spiral development program for a family of long-endurance autonomous solar-electric, stratospheric airships. Alike other vehicles of the same kind, the HiSentinel is launched like a conventional zero pressure stratospheric balloon and acquire his typical shape once at float altitude.
In the future, if the program succeeds, these low-cost systems will be capable of lifting small to medium payloads (20 to 200 pounds) to near-space altitudes for durations of longer than 30 days for communications, military and science applications.
The Page airport and even the Glenn Canyon Dam zone have had a long history as launch base for stratospheric balloons, as the National Center for Atmospheric Research used it as winter launch station during the middle 60's and early 70's.
More on the subject can be readed here.
I wish to thank the efforts made by ballonists Kent J.Barnes, Michael Glen, Mike Shrum and Eric Mueller by providing us with fresh informations on the test while they were attending the Page Hot Air Balloon Regatta.