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Balloon Team Completes 7 of 8 Missions During Ft. Sumner Fall 2014 Campaign10.03.2014

REMOTE payload

Figure 1. REMOTE

Quite a bit has happened since the CSBF Operations and NASA Mission and Safety teams deployed to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the week of July 24 to kick off the Fall 2014 campaign.  They have now launched 7 of the planned 8 missions, and final preparations are on track for the final mission.

The team knew 2014 was a strong El Niño year and the weather could be dynamic.  After a week of preparations and another week of rough weather, the campaign commenced on August 9th with the successful launch of the High Altitude Student Platform 2014 (HASP 2014) - the ninth in the series of the collaborative efforts between the Louisiana State University/Dr. Greg Guzik, the NASA Balloon Program Office (BPO), and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF).  This flight of HASP 2014 carried payloads from nine educational institutions a flight time of 8 hours 40 minutes to an altitude of 124,400 ft., exceeding all pre-flight objectives.

The next mission was the August 18th launch of the Wallops Arc-Second Pointer/Hyper-Spectral Imager for Climate Science (WASP/HySICS) from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder.  WASP is an innovative pointing system and the HySICS instrument is improving radiometric accuracy of Earth spectral observations for climate measurements.  Both the WFF/BPO WASP and the HySICS science teams reported excellent instrument performance and successful collection of very high quality science data after the 8 hour 54 minute flight to an altitude of 122,100 ft.

After a number of challenging weather days, the team successfully launched the Long-Duration Balloon (LDB) Systems Test flight to test and validate the functionality of a new balloon cap design, a new high-gain antenna, and a new solar power system using a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.  There were also two payloads of opportunity on the flight, along with two student payloads.  The launch occurred on August 24th, achieving a mission duration of 6 hours 38 minutes at an altitude of ~123,000 ft. 

Multiple attempts to launch the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Remote mission were thwarted by weather until September 14th.  The JPL Remote mission measured profiles of over 40 chemical species throughout the stratosphere to improve understanding of stratospheric chemistry and ozone layer stability and provide validation for the NASA Earth-Observing System Aura satellite.  The 23 hour 14 minute flight at ~126,000 ft. was an operations and science success.


Figure 2. X-Calibur

The following week was a banner week for the campaign.  The launch team in Fort Sumner took full advantage of the break in the weather and conducted three successful major launches in successive days (September 24th, 25th, and 26th), a first for the Balloon Program.  On September 24th, the X-CALIBUR mission from Washington University in Saint Louis to flight-test a pointing system and hard X-ray polarimeter for a future long-duration balloon flight was the first of the record-setting launch set.  With the mission duration of 7 hours 40 minutes at ~126,000 ft. , the mission was a success with the detector functioning properly and the team gaining valuable experience with operating the pointing system.  On September 25th, the Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS) from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory soared for 18 hours 53 minutes at altitudes as high as 128,000 ft.  The science team was successful in making planned daylight and nighttime observations, as well as observing additional targets of opportunity.  The record setting launch on September 26th was of the Gamma-Ray Polarimeter Experiment (GRAPE) from the University of New Hampshire.  GRAPE was designed to study the nature of gamma-ray bursts, some of the most energetic events in the Universe.  The 18 hour 51 minute flight at altitudes up to 130,000 ft. allowed the science team 2 hours of observation of their prime objective – the Crab Nebula – and an additional 16+ hours at float before termination.

The final mission for the campaign will be another mission utilizing the WASP sytem.  This time WASP will be paired with the Observatory for Planetary Investigations from the Stratosphere (OPIS) from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  The WASP/OPIS Science team is currently flight ready, however w eather continues to be a challenge, including an intense hailstorm with whiteout, high winds, and horizontally-blown hailstones at least 0.5 inches in diameter.  The campaign window extends until ~October 15th.



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