NASA’s scientific balloon program takes flight from NM

Space News

Scientific balloon took flight from Fort Sumner, New Mexico on June 8, 2021 | Courtesy NASA Wallops Twitter page

FORT SUMNER, N.M. (KRQE) – NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program kicked off 18 flights with their spring Fort Sumner campaign. The second flight took off on June 8. This is the program’s first major flight campaign since the pandemic, according to NASA. NASA says the team is supporting science and technology demonstration missions with six balloon flights scheduled from the end of April through mid-June. 

The June 8 test flight was for the Columbia Balloon Scientific Facility and included four piggyback missions: The Balloon Observation of Microburst Scales, or BOOMS, BALloon-Based Observations for sunlit Aurora, or BALBOA, Experimental Module for Iterative Design of Satellite Subsystem, or EMIDSS, and another tech demonstration flight, according to NASA. The flight lasted 15 hours and reached an altitude of 117,300 feet. The balloon landed northeast of Chino Valley, Arizona.

NASA says the scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for suspended payloads weighing up to 8,000 pounds to conduct tests and scientific investigations such as astrophysics, heliophysics, and atmospheric research, and depending on the mission, flight durations can run hours to multiple days or weeks for longer-term tests and data collection.

According to NASA, most of the missions will fly on heavy-lift, zero-pressure scientific balloons, with some as large as a football stadium when fully inflated. NASA says the balloons have open ducts hanging from the sides to allow gas to escape, and to prevent the pressure inside the balloon from building up during gas expansion as the balloon rises above Earth’s surface, according to NASA.

NASA also the Balloon-Borne Chirpsounder demonstration flight was launched on a zero-pressure scientific balloon May 4 from Fort Sumner and the balloon flew about four hours before it returned to earth southwest of Albuquerque.

According to NASA, the following are the other missions for the Spring Fort Sumner campaign:

  • Columbia Balloon Scientific Facility Tech Demo: Demonstration flight to validate a sunset ballast.
  • The Balloon-Borne Chirpsounder: A demonstration flight testing a new technology for measuring ion concentration in the ionosphere.
  • All Sky Heliospheric Imager: An all-sky camera that will be installed on the top side of the balloon to provide a full view of the sky above the balloon at night to view heliospheric structures. The mission hopes to eventually launch aboard a larger spacecraft in the future.
  • Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer: Twin telescopes cooled to nearly absolute zero measuring the polarization of the cosmic microwave background in search of primordial gravity waves created during an early-universe inflationary period. This will be the mission’s third flight.
  • Experimental Module for Iterative Design of Satellite Subsystem V. 2: Technology validation and scientific demonstrator for development of instrumentation and communications to help with investigations into climate change in Mexico and payload schemes for the future satellite missions. This mission supports the Aerospace Development Center and Applied Science and Technology Institute Autonomous National University of Mexico.

To follow the spring Fort Sumner campaign in real time, visit csbf.nasa.gov.

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