Purpose of the flight and payload description
BARREL is the acronym for Balloon Array for RBSP Relativistic Electron Losses a multiple-balloon research program designed to study electron losses from Earth's Radiation Belts. The inititative is a NASA mission operated out of Dartmouth College that works in coordination with the Van Allen Probes mission (formerly known as the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission).
In the scheme at left we can see three different views of the elements that compose a BARREL payload: (a) the internal payload structure, (b) a mechanical cutaway drawing and (c) the fully assembled payload including foam enclosure and solar panels (click to enlarge).
Each BARREL payload contains a single 3 inches high by 3 inches diameter NaI scintillator which provides a good compromise between energy resolution, detector efficiency and cost. The scintillator crystal is coupled to a photomultiplier tube (PMT) and signal processing electronics. The scintillator crystal, the PMT, a high voltage converter and a preamplifier, are all housed in a light-tight aluminum tube. The assembly is wrapped with a layer of mu-metal shielding to prevent Earth's magnetic field from modulating the PMT gain as the balloon payload rotates or swings. Mounted on a 42" long boom protruding from the external part of the gondola is a three-axis magnetometer which is used to identify magnetic activity, since ground-based magnetometers are often not available near the balloon locations in remotes areas. Time and positioning are provided by a GPS module.
An onboard computer called Data Process Unit (DPU) acquires data from the X-ray spectrometer, magnetometer, GPS, and an engineering data interface. It outputs formatted data frames to an Iridium modem for downlink, and also controls the command-cutdown system.
The gondola design consists of an internal frame constructed of aluminum angle, a foam enclosure, and an external aluminum frame for attaching the flight train and solar panels and to assure an easy launch. Handles made of square rails allow for easy transport and launch.
The BARREL power system is based on a solar-charged nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery that powers a box of DC/DC converters which provide isolated regulated voltages to payload components. As the payloads are freely spinning under the balloon the power system relies on 4 identical solar panels, one for each side of the gondola.
Details of the balloon flight
Balloon launched on: 12/15/2009 at 2:09 utc
Launch site: Williams Field, McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Balloon launched by: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Zero Pressure Balloon
Flight identification number: 609N
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 12/21/2009 at 1:00 utc
Landing site: 230 nautic miles NE from South Pole Station, Antarctica
This flight was a test of proof of the concept. In subsequent years, two balloon campaigns were carried out in Antarctica (2013 and 2014) and another one in the Arctic (2015).