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: 7/10/1990 at 14:07 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 Winzen - 23.300.000 cuft - Three capped
Balloon serial number: W23.50-3 Serial Nº 9
Flight identification number: 291NT
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 7/10/1990 at 17:54 utc
Balloon flight duration (F: time at float only, otherwise total flight time in d:days / h:hours or m:minutes - ): 4 h
Landing site: 8 miles S of Belen, New Mexico, US
Payload weight: 7.000 lbs
Overall weight: 11.862 lbs

This was the third test flight of the program. The balloon was launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico as mission 291-NT at 14:07 UTC on July 7, 1990. The flight system consisted of a three capped Winzen 23.3 mcf balloon, and a suspended engineering payload of 7,000 lbs. The ballast systems were the same as used for the previous test flights: an outer ballast conduit, an inner conduit and a normal NSBF ballast hopper. The gross load of the system was 10,784 lbs. Ten percent free lift was used for a total gross inflation of 11,862 lbs.

Approximately 204 lbs. of ballast was dropped during the ascent with the balloon arriving at its initial float altitude of approximately 112,500 ft. 2 hours and 32 min. after launch. The balloon was allowed to stabilize at float for 27 min. prior to the large ballast drops.

The first ballast drop of 2,020 lbs. resulted in an ascent rate of approximately 3,645 ft./min. and a new altitude of 116,500 ft.. Approximately 20 min. after the first drop, 1,500 lbs. of ballst was successfully dropped resulting in ascent rates up to 3,270 ft./min. and a float altitude of 121,500 ft. Twelve minutes later the remaining 1,140 lbs. of ballast was dropped with a resulting ascent rate of 2,036 ft./min. and a new float altitude of 123,000 ft. The final suspended payload after all ballast drops was 2,122 lbs., which was 1,103 lbs. less than the minimum design payload of 3,225 lbs.

The flight was successfully terminated at 17:54 UTC

External references

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