Balloon technology database now on-line - 12/28/2005
Wallops Flight Facility (USA): The biggest collection of balloon related technical reports, working papers, proceedings, and journal articles, is in process of being scanned and published over the internet, as informed by Doris J.Morris a StratoCat's friend who works in the Homer E. Newell Memorial Library managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The "Balloon Technology Database" -the collection's name- have more than 4300 documents, covering an ample field of topics including balloon theory, balloon physics, design, operations, performance, facilities, testing, materials, fabrication, quality control, failure analysis and history. The collection project started in November of 1993 continues to exist today with the sustained involvement of Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) balloon scientists and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) librarians. Also a great debt is owed to Jim Winker, balloon scientist and "de facto" librarian, for performing an awesome search of documents started in their own collection and continued when he visited over 60 sites in his effort to find and select items for the database.
Now, great part of their content -in the public domain or not copyrigthed- is being scanned and published regularly in the web site of the library at http://gsfcir.gsfc.nasa.gov/advanced/balloontech. There also can be searched the full index of the collection and can be meta-searched inside the text of all the documents already scanned and available for download.
Microgravity with stratospheric balloons - 12/28/2005
Sanriku, (Japan): The japanese
aerospace agency JAXA, is developing a balloon-borne platform to obtain
seconds of microgravity, using a rocket-like device free falling from
40 km of height.
As one of the less known forces of the universe, the gravity can't be ruled out -as weird as can sound thanks to the science fiction-. So the term “microgravity” denotes literally a world where gravity is almost nonexistent thanks to certain techniques to counteract his effects. Currently there are 3 ways to achieve this: drop an object from a tall tower or the border of a deep hole, flight the experiment in an aircraft performing a ballistic trajectory (a.k.a. "parabolic flights) or if you have the right amount of cash sending it to the ISS.
An alternative and much better method is to use instead a tower or a hole, a stratospheric balloon from wich you can drop a container carrying the experiments. This is the aproach selected by the japanese project conducted by Mr. Tatsuaki Hashimoto, professor at ISAS. The trial model of the vehicle (see picture) unlike a rocket, will not carry fuel to take off under its own power from the ground and requires the help of a balloon to ascend. The vehicle loads only approx. 2kg of compressed air, enough to allow it to adjust its position slightly during the drop but not enough to lift it by itself. Inside the rocket floats a ball-like container. An automatic system control the vehicle so that the container does not touch its body. With this method, can be obtained a good microgravity condition without imposing acceleration on the container. These adjustements are achieved using 16 gas thrusters that can steer the vehicle in all directions while it drops.
The first flight test was planned to be realized last august from the agency's own launch site at Sanriku Balloon Center, but as we already informed the atmospheric conditions prevented to do it, so the test will be conducted next year.
Although Japan have some experience in this field -conducting this kind of balloon-borne experiences back in 1983- the sophisticated device to be tested is a new technology in the field. Another nations has their own version: Germany developed a similar platform called MIKROBA and also India is studying the same possibility. It is expected that the utilization of a microgravity environment will yield a variety of new scientific knowledge in various fields such as material, life and combustion sciences.
To obtain more information on the subject visit the ISAS's web site and read an article called "Development and Future of Microgravity Experiment System Using a Balloon".
Lasers & balloons - 12/22/2005
Albuquerque, NM (USA): Starting
on December 2005 and ending in December 2007 the Air Force Research
Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate (AFRL/DE) will develope an
intesive campaign of stratospheric balloon launches for a program
called "High Altitude Mobile Pointing Platform" (HAMPP). The goal of
the project is to perform research on laser propagation in the
atmosphere at the Starfire Optical Range (SOR) located on Kirtland AFB,
There is not much information available (because it is developed as military research, although not secret) nevertheless StratoCat could know through a draft of a Environmental Assessment published at the web site of the base (recently removed), that approximately thirty launches per year are proposed involving 2.000.000 cubic feet balloons and that this operation will occur at various locations across New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. The reason to chose this ample civil area instead of choose some military installation as the Holloman AFB or the White Sands Missile Range, has two origins: in a hand the flight path must be line of sight to the SOR and these locations would not provide the appropriate flight path on the other hand there is no safety concerns about laser firing beacuse they will be of very low power, propagated at eye safe (invisible) levels and would not harm personnel, wildlife or threatened and endangered species.
On the balloon side, the operations will be conducted by the personnel of the AFRL Space Vehicles (AFRL/VS) Balloon Program wich operates at Holloman AFB. It is not the first time that experiences of these characteristics are made, in past years other balloon projects like KESTREL, HABE or ABLE carried onboard lasers. StratoCat will publish soon more detailed information about them. Also we will inform in these pages as soon as we know the dates of the launchings already made (if any) or to be made in the future.
Name change and new logo - 12/6/2005
It's official. In a ceremony to be held next Febraury in Palestine, Texas, the National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF), will be renamed as Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), honouring the seven crew that perished in the reentry manouver of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. The name change will include also the presentation of the new logo (seen at left) in wich were included seven stars as a simbolic representation of the victims of the accident. This was a original project of the Texas representative Jeb Hensarling, whom presented his initiative to the Grongress of the United States in 2004.
Actually the Palestine facility as well the rest of the NASA's balloon program is managed by the Physics Science Laboratory of the State University of New Mexico. In case you want more information on the subject don't miss a length article entitled A short history of the NSBF specially wrote for StratoCat by Dwight Bawcom former base's operation manager.