Weekly Balloon News #10 - January 31st. 2023
As I have learned over time, it is always better to keep quiet if you have nothing to say, than to fill the air with something stupid. That's how I could define this second hiatus in the weekly evolution of this humble newsletter. January doesn't seem to end anymore -yes, I hate summer- and with the northern hemisphere pretty much frozen, nobody seems to want to stick their nose out to launch a single balloon. So despite the few news that this newsletter brings for its second issue of 2023, here we go.
Recent balloon launches and landings
Finally, after almost a month of waiting, the first balloon launched in 2023 is aloft. Gone are those days in which just a few hours after the start of each year, Project Loon began to fill the screens of aircraft tracking sites with their characteristic yellow balloons. Aerostar, the South Dakota based balloon firm, sent up this early morning a Thunderhead balloon with callsign HBAL616 from their never disclosed facility in the southernmost border of Santa Fe County (NM). Literally in the middle of nowhere.
The balloon was launched at 4:11 utc on January 31, 2023 and after reaching the usual float altitude about 64.000 ft it was moving -at the moment of writing this- towards the northeast across New Mexico. Real time tracking available in the link below this humble bulletin.
In the other side of the news, the SPIDER (Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation Dust and the Epoch of Reionization) instrument launched on December 21, 2022 as the only balloon flight of the 2022/2023 NASA campaign in Antarctica finally landed after a little more than 16 days aloft. The landing occured at 4:18 utc on January 7th, 2023 near the Hercules Dome field camp, about 430 km from the South Pole. At left we can see the entire flight path. What is remarkable about the route followed by the balloon is that it makes it clear that the mission was carried out with a polar vortex (counterclockwise wind circulation pattern that runs through the entire Antarctic continent) that never fully formed.
Although SPIDER's landing could lead us to think that the mission has been completed, the reality is that the most important part still needs to be completed: recovering the data obtained during the entire mission.
In general terms, long-duration missions have some differences from those of more conventional durations. As soon as they are launched, the balloons communicate with the base through a high-speed system, but it is only available for a few hours or a day at the most. Once the balloon disappears below the horizon, that possibility is lost and communications begin to be handled through satellite links that allow the transmission of much less data.
From that moment, it is only possible to obtain some reference data on how the instrument carried by the balloon is behaving, and to send some commands to activate or modify some of its functions. All of the information that the telescope obtains during the rest of the mission is stored on a series of disks on board, which it is mandatory to recover.
If you want to know the details of the operation and its intricate complexities, I strongly recommend reading the chronicle that Jeff Filippini has written about it on his blog.
What's on in the field
On January 28, 2023 over 450 aviation comrades, friends, and family members of the late Col Joe Kittinger gathered at First Baptist Church in Orlando to celebrate his life. As you may remember from the previous edition of this bulletin, the aviation and ballooning legend passed away on December 9 at the age of 94.
The ceremony included a four plane diamond formation fly-by led by Keith Phillips starting the outdoor salute, followed by skydiver, Lance Aikins, who landed at the feet of the crowd. Phillips and team closed the aerial salute with the missing man formation followed by the bugle playing of Taps. Then, those gathered to honor Col. Kittinger proceeded into the church to enjoy memories from his grandson, Jack, and noted American aviators to include Alan Eustace, Bob Snow, and astronaut Bob Crippen.
Also all Flags were set to fly at half-staff on Saturday across the state of Florida to honor him.
World View Space the Tucson-based balloon firm announced this month that it would merge with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Leo Holdings Corp. II in a deal worth $350 million. I'm not an expert in the matter but in the last years, SPACs have become a popular vehicle for private companies looking to enter public markets outside the traditional Intial Public Offering process, and get a large injection of cash in the process.
Meanwhile, the company continues to advance their plans to start tourist flights from Page (AZ) sometime during 2024 but at the same time is keeping an eye in the remote sensing field with agreements with Scepter for missions starting this year and the continuation of their Stratollite missions for Sierra Nevada Corp. that started last year.
World View have been facing some financial troubles as has been public in the last months. That includes some personnel lay offs and even their helium supplier arriving at Tucson HQ and putting locks on the helium trailers until they paid most of the invoices.
Balloon image of the day
Since April 2021, I have published through my Twitter account (@stratoballoon) -at first daily and then more spaced out- a series of images from my archives that reflect important or curious moments in the history of scientific ballooning. Now, every week I will be including some of those posts in this newsletter. Those who want to see more similar content can do so by exploring the hashtag #BalloonImageOfTheDay
New contents in StratoCat
Sorry folks, but no new contents this week. I've spend the last weeks making a deep dive in StratoCat's database to fix some errors, duplicated data and also implementing Cloudflare for the website as my hosting provider has already warned me several times that I have exceeded the contracted monthly transfer fee. Cloudflare comes to solve this problem by caching Stratocat content on its own widespread servers. That also should improve Stratocat's loading times.
in seven days soon.
Balloons in flight (updated 3-Feb-2023 )
|Launched from||In flight since||Payload or experiment||Last known status|
| Santa Fe County (NM)||2/1/2023||THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 617||STILL IN FLIGHT --> SEE IN THE MAP|
Last completed balloon flights (updated 3-Feb-2023 )