Purpose of the flight and payload description

This flight was an enginnering test conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by the National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF). The test was part of a flight program implemented by NASA between 1989 and 1991 to determine the effect of flying at an increased flight stress index value as well as answering several other balloon performance questions. The NASA flight stress index, was developed in 1986 to provide an index of the relative stress magnitudes along a balloon gore as a function of altitude and to provide a means of predicting flight performance.


The primary objectives of the test flights were to increase the flight stress index through the increase in suspended payload to determine the performance capabilities of balloons made of Astrofilm "E2" and Stratofilm-372 as compared to the older Stratofilm in use, as well as to provide further validation of the flight stress index as an analysis/predictive tool.

The entire program included the realization of six flights. The first four flight tests would use 23 million cubic feet (mcf) class balloons. The first series of two were to be conducted with a suspended payload of 6,000 lbs at a flight stress index value of approximately 3,400 psi. If successful, the second series of two flight tests would be conducted with a suspended payload of 7,000 lbs. and a flight stress index value of approximately 3,800 psi. Depending on the success of the first series, the final two flights would be conducted using the 28 mcf EXP class design with a suspended payload of 7,000 lbs. and a flight stress index value of approximately 3800 psi. Both Winzen and Raven balloons were used for the flight tests.

Secondary objectives of the test series were to provide: 1) balloon structural and vertical performance data on the balloon's dynamic response to very large and rapid changes in payload weight; 2) balloon structural performance data for balloons with payloads significantly less than the minimum recommended or "design" payload; 3) evaluation of a newly developed thermistor reel profiler system for use in obtaining balloon and atmospheric temperatures; and 4) balloon gas temperature data for the determination of balloon gas stratification for use in balloon vertical performance model studies.

The planned flight profile called for the balloon to ascend under normal NSBF operational control and achieve float stabilization. After approximately 1 hour at float, a large and rapid ballast drop of 2,000 lbs. was to be initiated with successive large ballast drops made until all ballast was depleted. Completion of all ballast drops would thus achieve a suspended payload several hundred pounds less than the minimum design payload. Prior to termination of the flight, the balloon gas temperature would be vertically profiled for gas stratification data. The test flight would then be terminated and the engineering payload recovered.


To accomplish the objectives of the program each balloon carried the same engineering gondola containing:

- Two ambient air thermistors located 500' below the gondola;
- One up looking, pan/tilt video camera;
- Four up looking super 8 cameras working at different frame rates and activated during diffferent phases of the flight;
- One balloon gas temperature profiler;
- One full gondola diagnostics package (GDP) for termination event;
- One GDP lower unit for ballast drop;
- One Stow Away Special (SAS) with peak/hold circuit;
- One SAS with standard accelerometer and timing system for launch accelerations;
- One down radiometer.

In addition to the above instrumentation, meteorological conditions under the balloon for the entire ground track and all operational housekeeping data were recorded.

Details of the balloon flight

Balloon launched on: 10/13/1989 at 15:53 utc
Launch site: Scientific Flight Balloon Facility, Fort Sumner, (NM), US  
Balloon launched by: National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Zero Pressure Balloon Raven - 23.300.000 cuft - Three capped
Balloon serial number: R23.30-3 Serial Nº 117
Flight identification number: 278NT
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 10/13/1989 at 20:02 utc
Balloon flight duration (F: time at float only, otherwise total flight time in d:days / h:hours or m:minutes - ): 5 h
Landing site: 12 miles NNW of Plainview, Texas, US
Payload weight: 6.000 lbs
Overall weight: 10.678 lbs

This was the first flight of the program. The balloon was launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico as mission 278-NT at 15:53 UTC on October 13, 1989. The flight system consisted of a three capped Raven 23.3 mcf balloon, and a suspended engineering payload of 6,000 lbs. comprised of 4,372 lbs. of expendable ballast. The ballast was comprised by an outer ballast conduit of 2,000 lbs. with a flow rate of 2,500 lbs./min., an inner conduit of 1312 lbs. with a flow rate of 2,500 lbs./min.; and a normal NSBF ballast hopper containing 1,060 lbs. with a flow rate of 124 lbs./min. The gross load of the system was 9,680 lbs. Ten percent free lift was used for a total gross inflation of 10,678 lbs.

After a nominal ascent phase the balloon reached an initial float altitude of approximately 116,000 ft. at 18:10 UTC with no ballast drops required during the ascent. The balloon was allowed to stabilize at float prior to beginning of the ballast drops. The first ballast drop of 2,000 lbs. occurred at 19:26 UTC and resulted in an ascent rate in excess of 4,000 ft./min. Successive drops of 1,312 and 1,060 lbs. were successfully conducted at 19:31 and 19:33 UTC with ascent rates of approximately 3,000 ft./min. being observed. The final suspended payload after all ballast drops was 1628 lbs., which was 1,597 lbs. less than the minimum design payload of 3,225 lbs.

A final float altitude of 127,500 ft. was achieved and the flight was successfully terminated at 20:01 UTC.

External references

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