Monthly Archives: May 2016

Super Pressure Balloon Circumnavigates Globe After 14 days of Flight

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Super Pressure Balloon's first circumnavigation

After 14 days, 13 hours and 17 minutes of flight, NASA’s super pressure balloon completed its first circumnavigation.

NASA’s 18.8 million-cubic-foot super pressure balloon hit another milestone at 9:17 a.m. EDT Monday, May 31, crossing the 169.24 east longitude line, officially completing its first circumnavigation of the globe.

The balloon, flying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload, achieved the milestone 14 days, 13 hours and 42 minutes after launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. At the moment the balloon crossed the meridian, it was flying at an altitude of 110,170 feet heading northeast at 53.85 knots.

“Long duration, heavy-lift scientific balloon flights are poised to open doors for science and technology payloads seeking low-cost access to the near-space environment,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The team will continue to push SPB to its limits as it continues its global journey with the COSI payload.”

The COSI science team continues to collect and transmit data back to the payload’s control center at the University of California, Berkeley. On May 30, the COSI team had a significant breakthrough in detecting and localizing their first gamma ray burst, GRB 160530A (recorded in Gamma-ray Coordinates Network Circular 19473). Gamma ray bursts are comprised of the most energetic form of light and can last anywhere from milliseconds to several minutes. The phenomenon is associated with many types of deep space astrophysical sources, such as supernovas and the formation of black holes. The COSI gamma ray telescope observed the burst for nearly 10 seconds.

“GRB 160530A was a very bright burst and is an excellent candidate for us to utilize COSI’s unique capabilities to perform novel measurement of the polarization of this gamma ray burst. The COSI science instrument continues to function well,” said Steven Boggs, professor of physics at Berkeley and leader of the COSI collaboration. “We’ve met our minimum success criteria and the telescope is in an excellent position to continue the mission through completion. We hope to see many more gamma ray bursts while we continue our survey of the southern sky.”

The NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, operated by Orbital ATK, continues to monitor the balloon’s flight at the facility’s control center in Palestine, Texas. “Our tracking data shows the balloon is in good health and performing as expected thanks to the expertise of the super pressure balloon team and our experienced mission specialists at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. The completion of the balloon’s first mid-latitude circumnavigation marks a key mission milestone and brings us one step closer in setting a new flight duration record,” said John Pullen, vice president and general manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.

“We are also pleased that important science data, such as the discovery of a gamma ray burst, is already being collected on the mission which reinforces the capabilities of NASA’s scientific balloons in providing affordable, near-space access for conducting scientific investigations,” said Pullen.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. Orbital ATK, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations for NASA’s scientific balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 scientific balloons in the over 35 years of operation.

Weather permitting, the balloon can be seen from the ground, especially at sunrise and sunset, as it continues on its globetrotting journey. People can track the real-time location of NASA’s super pressure balloon at this website: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm.

For more information on NASA’s Balloon Program, visit: www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons.

NASA Super Pressure Balloon Crosses Pacific Ocean After 11 Days of Flight

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Super Pressure Balloon ground track

NASA’s super pressure balloon is projected to begin transiting South America at 10 p.m. EDT, Friday, May 27, as it continues to fly its around-the-world journey.

NASA’s super pressure balloon is quickly closing in on another milestone in its potentially record-breaking flight: first South American crossing.

Eleven days after lifting off from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, the balloon is on a trajectory to cross into South America at approximately 10 p.m. EDT, Friday, May 27, quickly transiting both Chile and Argentina.

“The balloon continues to perform brilliantly despite the stresses of the heating and cooling experienced while flying through the day-night cycle,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program chief. “It’s behaving as we predicted and is well on its way to set a new flight duration record.”

The balloon flight is monitored real-time from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. Before any land overflight occurs, a thorough assessment is made of the balloon’s health, the performance of the command and control electronics and the forecast trajectory is analyzed from a safety perspective before beginning overflight operations.

The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload flying on the super pressure balloon is healthy and continues to collect and transmit data on multiple observed galactic phenomena.

Forecast wind speeds and directions in the stratosphere show the super pressure balloon could complete its first mid-latitude circumnavigation as early as Tuesday, May 31. NASA predicts the balloon will complete a circumnavigation once every one to three weeks.

Weather permitting, the balloon can be seen from the ground, especially at sunrise and sunset, as it continues on its globetrotting journey. People can track the real-time location of NASA’s super pressure balloon at this website: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm.

For more information on the super pressure balloon mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-super-pressure-balloon-begins-globetrotting-journey.

For more information on NASA’s Balloon Program, visit: www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons.

Super Balloon Takes Flight From New Zealand

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NASA’s super pressure balloon took flight from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 7:35 p.m. Monday, May 16 (in EDT), on a flight aiming for long-duration at mid-latitudes. Video and pictures from the launch operation follow.

Unpacking the balloon

NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon team unpacks the super pressure balloon from its shipping container in preparation for flight. The red material is a protective covering over the balloon and is removed before flight. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Connecting the parachute

NASA’s balloon technicians attach the super pressure balloon to the parachute during launch operations (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Inflation

Inflation of the 18.8 million-cubic-foot super pressure balloon commences. A tow balloon, which helps lift the super pressure balloon during inflation operations, is the balloon at top. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Inflation Operations

Alec Beange works inflation operations of the super pressure balloon. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

NASA's super pressure balloon is fully inflated and ready for lift-off. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

NASA’s super pressure balloon is fully inflated and ready for lift-off. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Lift-off

NASA’s super pressure balloon lifts-off from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on its potentially record-breaking flight. (Credit: Jen Andrews)

Float

The fully-inflated, pumpkin-shaped super pressure balloon as seen from the ground. The balloon will maintain a near constant float altitude of 110,000 feet during its mission. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Up, Up, and Away! NASA Launches Globetrotting Super Balloon

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Groundtrack

The ground track of NASA’s super pressure balloon is shown here just three hours into flight, lifting off from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 7:35 p.m. (EDT) Monday, May 16, flying eastward before cutting northwest.

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA successfully launched a super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, (7:35 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16) on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight.

The purpose of the flight is to test and validate the SPB technology with the goal of long-duration flight (100+ days) at mid-latitudes. In addition, the gondola is carrying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) gamma-ray telescope as a mission of opportunity.

“The team performed a brilliant launch operation today,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The balloon is pressurized, healthy, and well on its way for this important test mission. I’m extremely proud of our Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team for yet another beautiful launch, and I’m thankful for the tremendous support from our Kiwi friends, particularly the phenomenal Wanaka Airport staff.”

Two hours and 8 minutes after lift-off, the 532,000-cubic-meter (18.8-million-cubic-foot) balloon reached its operational float altitude of 33.5 kilometers (110,000 feet) flying a trajectory taking it initially westward through southern Australia before entering into the eastward flowing winter stratospheric cyclone. NASA estimates the balloon will circumnavigate the globe about the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

“The successful launch demonstrates the value of an experienced scientific ballooning team and represents a partner NASA can count on,” said John Pullen, vice president and general manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The NASA/Orbital ATK’s CSBF Team executed flawlessly on the mission and reinforced Wallops Flight Facility’s position as the world leader in scientific ballooning operations.”

Super Pressure Balloon at launch

NASA’s super pressure balloon is seen here just before lift-off May 17 with the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload seen in the foreground. The balloon lifted off at 11:35 a.m. May 17 from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

This launch marks the beginning of the second SPB flight for COSI, which was developed by the University of California, Berkeley. COSI is a NASA-funded mission designed to probe the mysterious origins of galactic positrons, study the creation of new elements in the galaxy, and perform pioneering studies of gamma-ray bursts and black holes. Long-duration flights are vital to these types of studies.

Another mission of opportunity is the Carolina Infrasound instrument, a small, 3-kilogram payload with infrasound microphones designed to record acoustic wave field activity in the stratosphere. Developed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, previous balloon flights of the instrument have recorded low-frequency sounds in the stratosphere, some of which are believed to be new to science.

It was the fifth launch attempt for the team; previous attempts were scrubbed due to weather conditions not conducive for launch. NASA’s balloon experts at CSBF, and at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, will monitor and control balloon flight operations throughout the mission. In the meantime, NASA’s balloon team in Wanaka will begin closing down on-site campaign operations, which have been ongoing since February.

“We’re absolutely delighted to see NASA’s visit culminate in another successful launch,” said Ralph Fegan, Wanaka Airport operations manager. “The project has provided fantastic exposure for our region and New Zealand to date and this launch has helped us consolidate our relationship with NASA and its global balloon program. It’s been a pleasure to welcome the team back again and we’re very grateful to our airport users, neighbors and the wider community for their ongoing support.”

The science and engineering communities have previously identified long-duration balloon flights at constant altitudes as playing an important role in providing inexpensive access to the near-space environment for science and technology. The current record for a NASA super pressure balloon flight is 54 days

As the balloon travels around the Earth, it may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, to those who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa. Anyone may track the progress of the flight, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at:
http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

NASA’s scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for conducting scientific investigations in fields such as astrophysics, heliophysics and atmospheric research.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. Orbital ATK, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations for NASA’s scientific balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 scientific balloons in the over 35 years of operation.

For more information on the balloon program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons

Super Pressure Balloon Launch Attempt Underway

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NASA is targeting 7 p.m., Monday, May 16, (11 a.m., Tuesday, May 17, in New Zealand) to launch its super pressure balloon on a globetrotting, potentially 100-day test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand.

This is the fifth launch attempt for the balloon team.

The launch can be tracked in the following ways:
· Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm
· For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts (#superballoon): www.facebook.com/NASAWFF and www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops
· For launch updates follow on Wanaka Airport’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/WanakaAirport

El Niño weather continues to delay NASA’s super pressure balloon launch

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NASA will not attempt a balloon launch tomorrow, Sunday, 15 May (all times in New Zealand time), due to unacceptable forecast launch weather conditions.

Officials will continue to evaluate the weather conditions for an optimal launch window. A status update for Monday, 16 May, will be given by 2 pm Sunday (15 May).

“The data continues to show a very unusual weather period for this area both on the surface and in the stratosphere,” said Robert Mullenax, meteorologist for NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon team.

Wanaka typically offers a very high probability for weather conditions conducive for launching NASA’s scientific balloons. Still, it is not uncommon for any of NASA’s worldwide launch sites to hit a patch of bad weather that results in postponed launch attempts. “The issue for this campaign…for this year…is more focused around the impacts of the El Niño weather pattern, which is also impacting weather globally,” said Mullenax. “The weather issues we are seeing this year are largely attributable to El Niño.”

NASA will continue to evaluate weather conditions at least through May 31 for conditions conducive for conducting launch operations.

Weather postpones fourth super pressure balloon launch attempt

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Mother Nature continues to flex her muscles and throw us some jabs down in New Zealand; NASA’s scheduled super pressure balloon (SPB) launch attempt for today, May 6 (May 7 in New Zealand) has been postponed again due to poor weather.

“The high pressure system that was looking like it would help keep low-level winds down has dissipated creating unacceptable conditions for launch,” said Janet Letchworth, NASA’s mission manager for the SPB campaign. “Tomorrow’s weather is unacceptable for launch due to strong forecast winds. We’ll continue to evaluate conditions to see if Sunday’s (May 8) weather (Monday, May 9, in New Zealand) could support a launch attempt.”