Solar Particles and Radiations Monitoring Organization (SPARMO)

SPARMO (Solar Particles and Radiations Monitoring Organization) was a multinational scientific effort originally established for the purpose of coordinating balloon recordings of solar particle radiations, which later focused mainly on recordings of auroral-zone X-ray events associated with precipitation of high-energy electrons.

It was conceived in October 1961, when a group of scientists of several Institutes and Laboratories from Europe met in Paris under guidance of Dr. Cornelis De Jager, from the Utrech Observatory in the Netherlands, to analyze the balloon technology of the times and to investigate the possibilities of establishing a long term cooperation in the scientific use of stratospheric balloons. During a second meeting in April 1962, an unofficial comitee of four members was created, and proposed that Prof. Alfred Ehinert of the Max-Planck-Institut fur Aeronomie in Lindau/Harz, Germany, would be the first President of the new organization, while Mr. Jean Pierre Legrand of the Laboratoire de Physique Cosmique in Meudon, France would serve as the Director of the organization throughout its existence.

Until December 1963 SPARMO was a regional organization only, composed by European members only. However, after contacts established during the 9th International Conference on Cosmic Rays in Jaipur and the Plenary meeting of COSPAR in Warsaw that year, the effort incorporated members from research groups of Latinamerica, USA, Japan and Australia.

During SPARMO's first years, the activity was largely devoted to recordings of solar and galactic cosmic rays and associated modulation effects. Standardized detectors were developed, specifications for solar activity forecasts were drawn up and a fruitful collaboration was started with laboratories and research center of the entire world. Tho share the data obtained during the campaign was decided to create a a scientific/technical journal entitled the "SPARMO Bulletin" whose first issue was published in June 1964. It served mainly to publish reports about the use of balloons for scientific purposes, technical details on the construction and performance of the several balloon-borne detectors used by the initiative and summarize the data from the balloon flights.

On regard the field activity of the organization, it was focused at first on coordinated balloon launches in periods of special scientific interest or after the emition of an "alert" by those institutes that maintained a close observation of the solar phenomena. Campaigns were held during these early years in Sweden, Norway and France, and in later years these were extended to Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. Often were also performed coordinated launches in conjugated points (both extremes of same magnetic field lines) between north and south hemispheres.

The launch sites included the Aire Sur L'Adour balloon base run by the Centre National de Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the facilities of the Kiruna Geophysical Observatory in Sweden, the sourroundings of Andennes in Norway, along with sites like Lindau, Germany, Dakar in Senegal, Bologna, Italy and Buenos Aires. The initiative counted also with three reception stations in London, Great Britain, Pic-du-Midi and Paris, in France.

It was soon realized that the organization needed an official status in order successfully to negotiate with national and international authorities on, for example, the rules to be obeyed in the launching of balloons to warrant the safety of air traffic, the terms for over-flying foreign territory, etc. Thus in 1965 SPARMO acquired official international status through membership in the Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical Services (FAGS) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), counting with the sponsorship of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the International Union for Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG).

Activity continued inalterated until 1972, when during the annual meeting of the organization which that year was held in Graz, Austria, and while discussing about the future of SPARMO, it was decided that more emphasis ought to be placed upon the technical problems associated with stratospheric balloon flights. In order to reflect this fact it was decided to change the organization name to SBARMO (Scientific Ballooning and Radiations Monitoring Organization) as well their statutes.

Subsequent campaigns in middle 70's were devoted to perform long duration balloon missions along the line between Scandinavia and Greenland in the summer. The balloons launched from several points in the continent drifted westward over the north Atlantic Ocean up to three days. Althought the tracking of the balloons was difficult, this problem was solved utilizing the network of CONSOL stations established for navigational purposes.

In June 1976, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) at its Plenary Meeting at Philadelphia decided to accept SBARMO as an associated body. This was possible thanks to the fact that the year before ICSU General Committee extended the terms of reference of the to include space research experiments with balloons in addition to those with rockets and rocket propelled vehicles. This made SBARMO's experience and knowledge fully available to those parts of the COSPAR community interested in those aspects of scientific research with balloons.

Activity continued in the following years but slowly decreasing. The advent of satellite borne experiments had negative consequences on the ballooning community. First of all, many balloon experimenters left ballooning for satellites, which lead to the fact that several groups totally stopped their balloon programs, other groups gave priority to satellite measurements, leaving only minor attention on balloons. As a consequence funding of balloon investigations was essentially decreased.

The last SBARMO massive campaign took place between May 30 to July 10, 1979 when 39 balloons were launched from Hanningsvag and Karasjok in northern Norway and Sodankyla and Oulu in northern Finland while telemetry stations were in operation at Andoya and Abelvaar (Norway), Husavik (Iceland) and Egedesminde (Greenland) . Also the University of California, Space Sciences Laboratory launched 3 balloons from Thompson, Canada, closely coordinated with the European ones. This campaign was in coordination with measurements obtained from the GEOS-2 geosynchronous satellite.

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