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.

See you in seven days soon.

Balloons in flight (updated 3-Feb-2023 )

Launched fromIn flight sincePayload or experimentLast known status

Last completed balloon flights (updated 3-Feb-2023 )

Launch baseDateExperimentFlight duration
 McMurdo2022/12/21SPIDER (Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation Dust and the Epoch of Reionization)16 d 7 h
 Santa Fe County (NM)2022/12/12THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 614---
 Spaceport Tucson (AZ)2022/12/2TEST FLIGHT1 h 57 m
 Paso Robles (CA)2022/11/3THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61317 h
 Paso Robles (CA)2022/10/27THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61229 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/10/20THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61149 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/10/18THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6095 d 5 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/10/18THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 61010 d
 Madras Muni. (OR)2022/10/12PAYLOAD UNKNOWN2 h
 Madras Muni. (OR)2022/10/7PAYLOAD UNKNOWN---
 Dachaidan2022/10/4SOLAR CORONAGRAPH---
 Dachaidan2022/10/2SOLAR CELL CALIBRATION2 h
 Dachaidan2022/9/30HEAVY PAYLOAD TEST2 h 24 m
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/9/28THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 608~ 8 d
 Dachaidan2022/9/28MULTI-INSTRUMENTAL PLATFORM12 h 38 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/28PICTURE-C (Planetary Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Recoverable Experiment - Coronagraph)19 h 20 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/22TINMAN (ThermalIzed Neutron MeAsuremeNt experiment)7 h 30 m
 Santa Fe County (NM)2022/9/10THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 6071 h
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/8HASP 2022 (High Altitude Student Platform)21 h 7 m
 ESRANGE2022/9/7HEMERA ZPB202211 h 30 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/9/7BALBOA (BALloon-Based Observations for sunlit Aurora)8 h 45 m
 Tillamook (OR)2022/8/31PAYLOAD UNKNOWN8 h
 Raven campus, Baltic (SD)2022/8/25THUNDERHEAD FLIGHT 60526 d 6 h 55 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/8/25MULLENAX TEST FLIGHT21 h
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/23HEMERA 315 h 10 m
 Fort Sumner (NM)2022/8/23SALTER TEST FLIGHT5 h
 Timmins (ON)2022/8/22IFTS18 h 50 m

Project Grab-Bag

April 7, 2022.- New entry in Stratopedia our somewhat forgotten humble project of a scientific balloon encyclopedia.

On this update let's know about Grab-Bag or how to spy on the Soviet nuclear program from home. The complete history and launch record of the first balloon-borne continuous sampling program of radioactive debris in the stratosphere carried out in the 50's decade.

StratoCat shift to "Ko-fi" for funding

December 5, 2021.- Recently, I've joined a crowdfunding website to get some help to keep this website up and running. Sadly, they changed almost overnight their payment options ruling out the only one system available in my country. However, recently I've discovered and moved to Ko-fi a way much better initiative. Take a minute and learn how you can collaborate with this project by simply buying a coffee.

The road to the biggest jumps

So long time passed since 2012, when I've published the interactive timeline of the history of all the efforts that led to the succesful completion of Felix Baumgartner's jump under the Red Bull Stratos project. Now I've added more information, including the incredible history behind Alan Eustace and project Stratex.

Latest publications

  • March, 5 2020

    The Stratospheric Report #07

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report: HAPS Alliance unveiled; latest news from Project Loon including the usual up's and down's of the fleet; another setback for World View with the sudden termination of it's latest stratollite mission; closing of the NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica while preparing for the next mission in New Zealand; wrapping up of the Strateole 2 campaign ; a review of the activity deployed by Raven Aerostar this month and finally some balloon-related news in brief.

  • January, 18 2020

    The Stratospheric Report #06

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report we discuss latest developments in NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica including the ill fated flight of the BLAST telescope; the sunk in the Atlantic of World View's Gryphon 16 stratollite mission; first round the world traverse of Strateole 2 balloons; latest flights by Raven Aerostar plus a review of what we know so far about Thunderhead balloon systems and finally the usual update on Project Loon including latest launches, landings and actual whereabouts of the balloon fleet.

  • December, 27 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #05

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find: updates on Project Loon including a new endurance record, overflight permission recently granted by Uganda's government, latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; recent flights and new mark of World View's Stratollites; latests flight activity of Raven Aerostar; current status of Strateole 2 balloons in flight and first launch of NASA's balloon campaign in Antarctica.

  • December, 10 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #04

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual update on Project Loon including some changes in leadership at Alphabet, advances on flight infrastructure at Winnemucca (NV), latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; most recent flight activity of Raven Aerostar; the completing of the Strateole 2 campaign in Seychelles Islands and first glimpse to NASA's balloon launch campaign in Antarctica.

  • November, 24 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #03

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual update on Project Loon including new contract to provide internet service in Peru, latest launches, landings and the current status of the balloon fleet; most recent flight activity of Raven Aerostar and World View Enterprises; the first three balloon launches for Strateole 2 campaign in Seychelles Islands; a misterious balloon mission by Zero to Infinity in Spain and finally some interesting balloon-related publications.

  • November, 5 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #02

    On this edition of The Stratospheric Report you will find the usual ups & downs of Project Loon balloons; some interesting -and accidented- activity of their cousins of Raven Aerostar; good news to World View about dismissed appeal on lawsuit and bad ones with a failed Stratollite flight; two balloon launches in Sweden full of student payloads; the Strateole 2 campaign starting in the Seychelles Islands, upcoming balloon-based tests for ExoMars parachutes in the US and finally some interesting balloon-related publications.

  • October, 21 2019

    The Stratospheric Report #01

    After almost a year without any actualization of this website, is with great pride that today I'm introducing the first edition of The Stratospheric Report a fortnightly news bulletin about scientific and commercial ballooning.

    From this pages every 15 days (or so) I will try to keep you informed of the current ongoings in the field of scientific and commercial ballooning: launches and landings, campaigns, relevant news from companies in the sector, conferences, publications and much more.

  • October, 20 2018

    Six balloon launch campaigns in a nutshell

    Between June and October 2018, six launch campaigns of stratospheric balloons were performed worldwide. Twenty succesful balloon missions were made, for the benefit of astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric sciences, STEM training of students and technology advance. The scientific effort involved three transatlantic balloon flights from Sweden to Canada, a long duration arctic balloon mission from Svalbard to Canada, two flights over Texas, five missions in Ontario and three in Alberta, Canada, eight launches over New Mexico, and two short duration missions in Sweden...

  • June, 10 2018

    SuperBIT flight or the dream of any balloon scientist

    Palestine, Texas.- Launched at first try, undisturbed flight at altitude by hours, an instrument working as expected, and then landing it with minor damage in an unpopulated zone but with a nearby road for an easy recovery, is what I call a picture perfect balloon mission. I am not referring to some ideal scenario taken from some training manual of any agency's balloon program, but what happened from beginning to end with the SuperBIT telescope flight launched a few days ago from Palestine, Texas...

  • May, 27 2018

    Transatlantic balloon launch campaign from Sweden to Canada

    Kiruna, Sweden.- The NASA balloon program returned to Sweden to perform a balloon launch campaign from the facilities of the European Space Range (ESRANGE), near Kiruna, very close to Arctic polar circle. The missions to be performed during May and June, will consist in trans-atlantic flights from Sweden to Canada with a mean duration of 4 to 5 days and the recovery in the Nunavut territory. This flight scheme was inaugurated by NASA in 2005...

  • May, 6 2018

    The present and future of the French balloon program

    To know more about the present and future of the French Balloon program I've made a brief interview to Stéphane Louvel, mission manager of the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) stratospheric balloon campaigns all over the world.

    Past and upcoming campaigns, new technological developments and the current challenges of French and European balloon activities, are among the topics discussed with him...

  • May, 2 2018

    Second balloon launch in Australian campaign

    Alice Springs, Australia.- The second balloon of the 2018 launch campaign that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is carrying out since late March in Australia, was completed successfully on April 26.

    The launch was carried out at 6:33 local time and after an ascent phase of near two hours, the balloon reached a float altitude about 38 km...

  • April, 20 2018

    Japanese balloon launch campaign in Australia

    Alice Springs, Australia.- Dozens of surprised inhabitants watched on April 7, the slow drift in the clean autumn skies of a very brilliant star, wondering what it was. It was not of extraterretrial origin, but its mission was in some manner related to the deep realms of space.

    The silver orb that mesmerized the ocasional sighters was in fact a huge stratospheric balloon launched early in the morning that day from the Alice Springs Airport as part of a balloon launch campaign by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)...

  • January 19 2018

    Antarctic balloon launch campaign ends without flights

    McMurdo Station, Antarctica.- The weather did it again. The Nemesis of NASA's balloon program during the campaigns developed last year, does not seem willing to resign its role in the new year that just started.

    After sixteen attempts performed from December 8th to January 14th, the team of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of the operation of the SuperTIGER instrument, finally communicated via social media that the campaign was called off. The instrument will be put in storage at McMurdo during winter to be hopefully launched next summer...

  • December 29 2017

    Winter night balloon test in the Arctic

    Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands.- In the middle of the winter polar night a team of the ISTAR Group a balloon launch company based in Sisters, Oregon, United Sates gathered along with people from the Università di Roma - La Sapienza an other institutions from Italy and Russia to launch a stratospheric balloon from the facilities of the International Airport of Longyearbyen, located in the central part of the Spitzbergen Island, the largest one of the Svalbard archipelago.

    The goal of the mission was to test the behaviour of balloon systems during a long duration flight in the cold night of the Arctic winter...

  • December 24 2017

    World View balloon explodes during a test outside Tucson, Arizona

    Spaceport Tucson, Arizona.- The calm of the southern part of the city of Tucson, Arizona, was suddenly altered in the afternoon on December 19, 2017 by a loud explosion originated in the balloon launch facility built by World View Enterprises (WVE), 6 miles south from the center of the city.

    The incident occured while a static balloon test was underway in the launch pad. No details were provided on the nature of the test or the identity of the customer who requested the test.

  • November 1 2017

    PIPER flight closes NASA balloon launch campaign in New Mexico

    Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- 2017 will be remembered in the annals of NASA's scientific balloon program as a particularly problematic year.

    Following the loss of the EUSO-SPB balloon in the Pacific in May and the free-fall incident which ended with the destruction of the BETTII telescope in June, the agency's fall campaign held each year at the Scientific Balloon Flight Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, came to an end with only two flights performed of the seven planned, after suffering the worst weather conditions in many years...

  • September 5 2017

    First balloon launch of NASA fall campaign in New Mexico

    Fort Sumner, New Mexico.- The first flight of NASA's Fall balloon launch campaign was performed yesterday, as mission 680N from the Scientific Balloon Flight Facility that the agency maintains inside the boundaries of the Fort Sumner Municipal Airport, in New Mexico.

    The purpose of the flight was to transport a series of experiments as part of the High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) program which every year since 2006 include up to twelve student payloads in a stratospheric balloon launched by NASA with flight durations of 15 to 20 hours...

  • August 11 2017

    JAXA closes its balloon launch campaign for this year

    Taiki, Hokkaido, Japan.- The balloon launch campaign started on June 5th by the the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) -part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) since 2003- which was being carried out at the Taiki Aerospace Research Field (TARF) in Hokkaido, has been called off.

    In a press release published by ISAS in their Japanese language website in August 8th, the agency reports that were performed two succesful missions from the four originally planned for the campaign, and one attempt to launch a third one aborted during inflation...

  • August 5 2017

    First images of the BETTII remains after the free-fall accident

    Palestine, Texas.- A few days ago, on the same facebook page where we learned about the unfortunated accident suffered by the Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry (BETTII) past June, were published the first public images of the debris of the instrument after experiencing a free-fall from an altitude of 135.000 ft.

    The images show nothing more than a pile of tubes, electronics, and bend metal parts of the instrument...

  • June 24 2017

    BETTII twin interferometer destroyed in free fall incident over Texas

    Palestine, Texas.- The first balloon mission of the NASA summer balloon launch campaign being carried out from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, located in the outskirts of the city of Palestine, Texas, ended in the worst way.

    Accordingly to an entry published a few hours after by the BETTII team on its facebook page and later by NASA on its website, at the end of the flight, the payload was separated from the balloon following the standard procedure, when due to yet unknown reasons, the instrument separated from the parachute and free fell from an altitude of 135.000 feet, in west Texas...

  • June 8 2017

    NASA summer balloon campaign from Palestine base

    Palestine, Texas.- As long as the weather cooperates, while I'm writing this lines probably would be a rush of activity at the most famous NASA balloon base, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, located in the outskirts of the city of Palestine, Texas.

    The activity is part of the Summer balloon launch campaign at the base, which in 2016 returned to the launch activity after a hiatus of near 9 years. This year's campaign will involve the launch of three payloads...

  • June 3 2017

    GENETRIX spy balloon program data published in StratoCat

    After a six month work and a search that endured almost 10 years, I'm publishing today in StratoCat for the first time an extensive and comprehensive bulk of information about a secret program carried out by the US Air Force and other agencies to obtain strategic reconnaisance of the Soviet Union and their allies.

    GENETRIX, was a secret program started in 1950 and executed in 1956 by the United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) and other agencies, under the cover of a meteorological and scientific effort. However, the real objective was to obtain photographic reconnaissance of the Soviet Union using high resolution cameras transported by stratospheric balloons riding the jet stream...