NASA’s science balloon program is scheduled to launch a hyperbaric balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, for further testing and qualification of the technology, which could save costs compared to space missions.
While the two launches are primarily intended to test SPB technology, NASA also flies science payloads as Opportunity missions on each balloon. The balloons may also be visible from the ground during their flights, which are planned for up to 100 days or more.
said Debbie Fairbrother, chief of the NASA Balloon Program Office based at the agency’s Wallops Flight facility in Virginia. “Some of the amazing work planned this year includes a mission looking out into space to study galaxy clusters and one looking at high-energy particles from outside our galaxy.”
Launches are scheduled to begin in April and campaign updates will be posted on our website Super pressure balloon blog.
The first scheduled flight will operate on the Ultra Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT), from Princeton University, which uses a wide field of view to image large clusters of galaxies from a balloon platform in a nearby space environment. By measuring the way these massive objects warp the space around them, also called “weak gravitational lensing,” SuperBIT will be able to map the dark matter contained in these clusters.
The second mission will fly by the Extreme Universe Space Observatory 2 (EUSO-2), a mission from the University of Chicago that aims to build on data gathered during the 2017 mission. EUSO-2 will detect high-energy cosmic ray particles from outside our galaxy as they penetrate the atmosphere to earth. The origins of these particles are not well known, so the data collected from EUSO-2 will help solve this scientific mystery.
NASA invites the public to follow these missions as they fly around the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, Fairbrother said. The balloon’s flight path is controlled by the wind speed and direction at the floating height. The missions will spend most of their time over the water, and for any land crossings, NASA is working with the US State Department to coordinate approvals for overflights. Real-time tracking of these flights is available to the public here.
In addition, NASA publishes balloon launch and tracking information via the web at www.nasa.com www.nasa.gov/balloons and via NASA’s social media platforms.
NASA launched three SPBs from Wanaka, one in 2015-2017. A planned 2020 campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the agency’s 2022 campaign ended without a launch due to a ground system malfunction.
“A long-duration balloon flight is an enormous challenge, and each flight campaign helps build on lessons learned to improve not only balloon technology, but also our operational procedures,” said Fairbrother.
Maintaining a constant altitude in the stratosphere is an enormous challenge for airborne systems, including balloons. Most standard heavy-lift zero-pressure balloons can vary in altitudes of up to 45,000 feet (13.7 km) due to the alternating warming and cooling of the day-night cycle. In response, mission operators typically release excess weight in the form of ballast to maintain altitude.
By contrast, the SPB is designed to maintain positive internal pressure and shape regardless of its environment, keeping the balloon at a constant floating height without dropping ballast.
The 18.8 million cubic feet (532,000 cubic metres) balloon is filled with helium and is roughly the size of a football field when fully inflated at its operational float height of 110,000 feet (33.5 kilometers). Wanaka is NASA’s designated launch site for long-range and mid-latitude balloon missions.
SPB launches from New Zealand are being conducted by NASA in collaboration with the Queenstown Airport Corporation, Queenstown Lake District Council, the New Zealand Space Agency and Air New Zealand.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia operates the agency’s science balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites around the world. Piraton, which operates NASA’s Columbia Science Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services, and field operations for NASA’s science balloon program.
The CSBF has launched more than 1,700 science balloons over its 40 years of operations. NASA balloons are manufactured by Raven Aerostar.
the quote: NASA plans two Super Pressure Balloon test flights from New Zealand (2023, April 3) Retrieved April 3, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-nasa-super-pressure-balloon-flights.html
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