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Balloon Program Wraps up in Antarctica, Heading to New Zealand1.29.2015

Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna

Figure 1. A NASA Super Pressure Balloon with COSI payload is read for launch from McMurdo, Antarctica.

NASA’s globetrotting Balloon Program Office is wrapping up its 2014-2015 Antarctic campaign while prepping for an around-the-world flight launching out of Wanaka, New Zealand, in March.

After 16 days, 12 hours, and 56 minutes of flight, operators successfully conducted a planned flight termination of the Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation Dust and the Epoch of Reionization (SPIDER) mission Saturday, Jan. 18, the final mission of the campaign.

Other flights in the 2014-2015 Antarctic campaign included the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA-III) mission as well as the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload flown on the developmental Super Pressure Balloon (SPB). ANITA-III successfully wrapped up Jan. 9 after 22 days, 9 hours, and 14 minutes of flight. Flight controllers terminated the COSI flight 43 hours into the mission after detecting a small gas leak in the balloon.

Crews are now working to recover all three instruments from different locations across the continent.  The 6,480-pound SPIDER payload is stationary at a position about 290 miles from the United Kingdom’s Sky Blu Logistics Facility in Antarctica. The 4,601 pound ANITA-III payload, located about 100 miles from Australia’s Davis Station, and the 2,866 pound COSI payload, located about 340 miles from the United States McMurdo Station both had numerous key components recovered in the past few days.

Beginning in late January, the Balloon Program Office will deploy a team to Wanaka, New Zealand, to begin preparations for an SPB flight, scheduled to launch in March. The Program Office seeks to fly the SPB more than 100 days, which would shatter the current flight duration record of 55 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes for a large scientific balloon.

“We’re looking forward to the New Zealand campaign and hopefully a history-making flight with the Super Pressure Balloon,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office Chief.

Most scientific balloons see altitude variances based on temperature changes in the atmosphere at night and during the day. The SPB is capable of missions on the order of 100 days or more at constant float altitudes due to the pressurization of the balloon.

“Stable, long-duration flights at near-space altitudes above more than 99 percent of the atmosphere are highly desirable in the science community, and we’re ready to deliver,” said Fairbrother.

In addition to the SPB flight in March, the Balloon Program Office has 10 more balloon missions planned through September 2015 to include scheduled test flights of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, which is testing new technologies for landing larger, heavier payloads on Mars.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility manages the agency’s Scientific Balloon Program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. The balloons are massive in volume; the average-sized balloon could hold the volume of nearly 200 blimps. Previous work on balloons have contributed to confirming the Big Bang Theory.

Jeremy Eggers

NASA Code 820

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