NASA to launch telescope on super-pressure balloon in search for cosmic rays
Prof. Angela Olinto leads project to collect data at near-space altitudes
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is preparing to use a super-pressure balloon to launch into near space a pioneering telescope designed to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays as they interact with the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We’re searching for the most energetic cosmic particles that we’ve ever observed,” said Angela V. Olinto, the Homer J. Livingston Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago and principal investigator of the project, known as the Extreme Universe Space Observatory-Super Pressure Balloon. “The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?”
The extremely rare particles hit the atmosphere at a rate of only one per square kilometer per century. To assure that it will capture some of the particles, the telescope’s camera takes 400,000 images a second as it casts a wide view back toward the Earth.
Preparations are complete in Wanaka, New Zealand for the balloon’s launch, which will happen as soon as scientists and engineers have the right weather conditions. Researchers hope the balloon will stay afloat for up to 100 days, thereby setting a record for an ultra-long duration flight.
NASA describes the super-pressure balloon as the “most persnickety” of all the flight and launch vehicles it operates. Launching the balloon depends on just the right weather conditions on the surface of the Earth all the way up to 110,000 feet, where the balloon travels.
The project will set the stage for a space mission currently being planned. “That would enlarge even more the volume of the atmosphere that we can observe at one time,” said Olinto, who serves as chair of UChicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. “We need to observe a significantly large number of these cosmic messengers to discover what are their sources and how they interact at their energetic extremes.”
When an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, it induces a series of interactions that stimulates a large cosmic ray shower. The new telescope, which detects at night, will capture the ultra-violet fluorescence produced by the interaction of these particle showers with the nitrogen molecules in the air.
“High-energy cosmic rays have never been observed this way from space,” said Lawrence Wiencke, professor of physics at the Colorado School of Mines and co-leader of the project. “This mission to a sub-orbital altitude is a pioneering opportunity for us. Our international collaboration is very excited about this launch and about the new data that will be collected along the way.”
The project lends itself to participation by graduate and undergraduate students, Olinto said. Leo Allen and Mikhail Rezazadeh, two UChicago undergraduates, built an infrared camera under the supervision of UChicago Prof. Stephan Meyer and Olinto to observe the cloud coverage at night under EUSO-SPB.
Sixteen countries were involved with the design of the telescope. The U.S. team, funded by NASA, is led by UChicago, Colorado School of Mines, Marshall Space Flight Center, University of Alabama at Huntsville and Lehman College at the City University of New York.
Quelle: University of Chicago
First Launch Attempt Planned for 2017 NASA Super Pressure Balloon Flight
UPDATE: Saturday, April 8, 2 a.m. (New Zealand time zone) – NASA postpones super pressure balloon launch
NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 2 a.m. Saturday, April 8 (New Zealand time) due to unacceptable stratospheric weather conditions for operations.
Along with monitoring ground and lower-level winds (up to 300 meters) on launch day, stratospheric wind conditions at 33.5 km (110,000 feet), which is where the balloon will float, also need to be set-up favorably to support a launch attempt.
While ground and lower-level winds were conducive for launch, winds in the stratosphere were not. A counter-clockwise flowing eddy has developed to the west of New Zealand's North Island. Forecast models had the balloon launching from Wanaka and then traveling north bisecting the South Island before eventually getting caught up in the light and variable winds of the eddy. Ideally, an eastward trajectory after lift-off is preferred, though not necessarily required.
"Had the forecast stratospheric models pushed the balloon further west—not unlike what we saw in our 2016 launch—we would have seriously considered moving forward with our launch attempt," said Gabe Garde, NASA's mission manager for the balloon launch. "Unfortunately, there's too much uncertainty in the final trajectory forecast given the nearby eddy pattern in the stratosphere. More opportunities will present themselves as we continue to move forward in the campaign."
NASA will announce by 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8, whether or not Sunday’s weather will support a launch attempt.
NASA is targeting Saturday, April 8 (Friday, April 7 in Eastern Time), to conduct a super pressure balloon (SPB) test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a potential 100-day journey.
NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Saturday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. If weather is conducive for launch, lift-off is scheduled between 8 and 11:30 a.m. locally (between 4 and 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday, April 7).
“At this time, the weather at the ground and lower levels looks very good for a Saturday launch attempt,” said Gabe Garde, mission manager for the 2017 Wanaka Balloon Campaign. "However, we continue to evaluate the forecast stratospheric winds and predicted flight trajectory to ensure conditions are acceptable before launch."
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 University of Chicago's Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) is a mission of opportunity flying on the 2017 SPB test flight.
EUSO-SPB is designed to detect high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our galaxy as they penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. As these high-energy particles enter the atmosphere, they interact with nitrogen molecules in the air and create a UV fluorescence light. EUSO-SPB will be looking downward at a broad swathe of the Earth’s atmosphere to detect the UV fluorescence from these deep space cosmic rays coming in from above.
Once launched, the 532,000-cubic-meter (18.8-million-cubic-foot) balloon will ascend to an operational float altitude of 33.5 kilometers (110,000 feet). 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.
NASA is working closely alongside Airways, New Zealand’s air navigation service provider, to plan the airspace logistics for the balloon launch. Airways will coordinate with NASA to ensure minimal impact on normally scheduled aircraft operations and facilitate safe passage of the balloon through controlled airspace. NASA will provide Airways with the balloon’s predicted trajectory based on wind and weather conditions, ensuring the organization has the most up-to-date information to safely manage the airspace.
In addition to Airways, NASA is also collaborating with the Queenstown Lakes District Council, Queenstown Airport Corporation, and the Wanaka Airport team.
NASA's Super Pressure Balloon Takes Flight From NZ
News Release: NASA's Super Pressure Balloon Takes Flight From New Zealand
NASA successfully launched its football-stadium-sized, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at10:50 a.m. Tuesday, April 25 (6:50 p.m. April 24 in U.S. Eastern Time), on a mission designed to run 100 or more days floating at 110,000 feet (33.5 km) about the globe in the southern hemisphere's mid-latitude band.
"Following our 2015 and 2016 New Zealand missions, we've learned key lessons on the balloon design that have gone into perfecting the technology for this year's flight," said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA's Balloon Program Office chief. "I'm very proud of the team that delivered us to this point and I'm hopeful that third time's the charm for realizing 100 days of flight."
While validating the super pressure balloon technology is the main flight objective, the International Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) payload is flying as a mission of opportunity. Also flying on the payload is a poppy in commemoration of Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance in New Zealand and Australia similar to the U.S. observance of Memorial Day.
EUSO-SPB's objective is to detect ultra-high energy cosmic rays from beyond our galaxy as they penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. As these high-energy particles enter the atmosphere, they interact with nitrogen molecules in the air and create a UV fluorescence light. From its high-altitude vantage point, EUSO-SPB will look downward observing a broad swathe of the Earth’s atmosphere to detect the UV fluorescence from these deep space cosmic rays coming in from above.
“EUSO-SPB is now searching for the most energetic cosmic particles ever observed,” said Angela V. Olinto, professor at the University of Chicago and principal investigator of the project. “The origin of these particles is a great mystery that our pioneering mission will help to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning pulsars? Or somewhere else?”
"The international science team is very excited to see our cosmic ray fluorescence detector lifted to suborbital space by this remarkable balloon and departing on this global journey," said Lawrence Wiencke, professor at the Colorado School of Mines and deputy principal investigator. "This balloon will give us a great view, and we are hoping for a record flight. We would especially like to thank the NASA and Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility teams for their patience, hard work, and extensive expertise that made this launch successful."
At a relatively low cost, NASA's heavy-lift balloons have been critical launch vehicles for testing and validating new technologies and science instruments to assure mission success for costlier, higher-risk follow-on spaceflight missions, said Fairbrother. Once the technology is validated, the ultimate goal of the EUSO project is to fly from an even higher altitude on the International Space Station to observe a greater atmospheric area for detecting high-energy cosmic rays.
“We are proud to once again support NASA’s scientific balloon program by demonstrating the experience and dedication needed to execute scientific balloon operations,” said John Pullen, Vice President and General Manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The NASA/Orbital ATK team continues to deliver affordable and reliable long duration balloon flights across the world from Antarctica to New Zealand to Palestine, Texas home of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. Our flexibility and history of success allow us to launch a variety of balloons that provide critical scientific data for new technologies and discoveries no matter the location.”
The 18.8-million-cubic-foot (532,000-cubic-meter) Super Pressure Balloon lifted off from NASA's new launch pad adjacent to Wanaka Airport carrying a suspended payload of 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms). The new pad along with a recently established 10-year lease with Queenstown Airport Corporation are key developments for enhancing NASA's mid-latitude, long-duration balloon flight operations in New Zealand. According to Fairbrother, future investments include a payload processing facility on-site.
"It's been a huge privilege and honor to have the NASA and SPB team back again for a third year in Wanaka," said Ralph Fegan, Wanaka Airport operations manager. “The team here at Wanaka and Queenstown Airports are excited to see what the next 10 years bring as the relationship between us grows."
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:
Leak causes early end to Nasa's Wanaka balloon mission
Nasa's Wanaka science balloon has sprung a leak over the Pacific Ocean. Plans are under way to bring it down early in South America.
Nasa communications spokesman Jeremy Eggers said the Nasa balloon team did not know what caused the leak.
"That's unknown. Nasa will form an investigation team to look at that very question. The data we collect as the mission continues will help us in that investigation."
Happily, scientists from the University of Chicago and the Colorado School of Mines are continuing to get data from their cosmic ray detector payload while the balloon is still afloat.
"On science—the science team continues to collect and download data from their instrument, which has been a bright spot indeed," Eggers aid.
The balloon was launched on its eighth attempt from Wanaka Airport on April 25, Anzac Day.
Eggers said about two hours after launch, the balloon pressurised normally at a predicted altitude of about 33.2 km (109,000 feet).
It maintained a stable float altitude for two days of flight, but on the third day it dropped in altitude during the night.
It later re-pressurised and returned to 33.2 km of altitude during the daytime.
Eggers said the balloon had flown through a cold storm and during past missions, these storms led to night time altitude variation.
On this flight, the balloon continued to lose altitude at night, then repressurise and rise back up in the day, which was not what it was designed to do.
"The balloon is designed to float at a stable altitude despite the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle," Nas balloon programme chief Debbie Fairbrother said.
"While cold storms do impact altitude, it's clear the balloon is no longer behaving as designed, and the data strongly suggests the balloon has developed a leak. This is an unfortunate development in our test flight, but we're gaining some important data from this mission that will apply to future flights."
Flight controllers at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, are monitoring the balloon over the Pacific Ocean.
There is ballast on board the gondola that can be dropped to slow the balloon's descent at night.
Once it crosses the ocean, Nasa will seek a safe area to terminate flight and recover the balloon and payload.
In the meantime, balloon flight data is still being collected and will be evaluated.
The data will be used to make design improvements to support future super pressure balloon missions.
Quelle: stuff national
Wanaka's NASA balloon sinks to bottom of Pacific Ocean
Wanaka's Nasa balloon has sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean after a leak forced a controlled sea landing 12 days days after it launched into the stratosphere.
Instead of floating for 100 days 33 kilometres above Earth to collect flight data for the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and images of cosmic ray particles for astrophysicists, the balloon is now in a secret subterranean world about 321km south of Easter Island.
The Pacific Ocean is the biggest and deepest of Earth's oceans, covering 165.25 million square kilometres, at an average depth of 4280 metres.
More than 90 percent of the Pacific sea bed has yet to be explored.
Despite carrying state of the art scientific equipment, no images of the balloon's splash down and descent can be obtained.
"We stopped receiving communications from the balloon/payload when we impacted the ocean," Eggers said.
The uninsured balloon and payload is worth several million dollars and cannot be recovered.
Eggers was not able to provide the exact cost of the lost equipment, but said the possibility of loss had been accepted before the operation launched.
Weighing 2377km at full inflation, the stadium-sized balloon was expected to have sunk rapidly.
It is not known how big the splash was. Egger said the descent from 33.2km above Earth to the ocean took more than three-and-a-half hours, "so it was a gradual descent, perhaps similar to a parachute landing".
"The open-ocean flight termination procedure makes use of the two-tonne flight payload as an anchor to pull the entire balloon flight train to the bottom of the ocean as quickly as possible.
"The balloon does not remain in the . . . [area] where most marine species are known to live, minimising environmental impacts," Eggers said.
An investigation into the cause of the leak will help Nasa decide what direction its balloon programme needs to take, including whether to launch from Wanaka in 2018.
"Nasa has not determined the scheduled for 2018 at this time. Rest assured, though, that Wanaka is our mid-latitude super pressure balloon launch site – that's not going to change. For 2018, the type of science we need to fly and the status of our investigation into this year's super pressure balloon leak will both inform our schedule," Eggers said.
Scientists were able to download about 60 gigabytes of cosmic ray particle data during the flight.
Principal scientist Professor Angela Olinto, of Chicago University, said while the flight was cut short, she was confident the super pressure balloon approach would pioneer a new understanding of cosmic ray particles.
Deputy principal scientist Lawrence Wiencke, of the Colorado School of Mines, said he was looking forward to analysing the data and to another super pressure balloon flight with NASA.
NASA Completes Balloon Technology Test Flight
NASA completed its third mid-latitude Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) flight at 11:24 p.m. EDT, Saturday, May 6, after 12 days, 4 hours and 34 minutes aloft.
Flight controllers at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, conducted a controlled flight termination of the balloon, which slowly descended back to Earth impacting in the South Pacific Ocean about 200 miles south of Easter Island.
Launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a mission to test the SPB technology, a leak in the balloon was confirmed on its third day of flight. The balloon was designed to float at a stable altitude of about 33.2 km (109,000 feet) for long durations despite the heating and cooling of the day/night cycle. The balloon started experiencing significant altitude drops at night when the temperature dropped, regaining its predicted altitude during the day as the temperature rose.
Flight controllers dropped ballast to manage altitude loss during cold storms, which can see atmospheric temperatures at -50 degrees and below. In the 11th day of flight, the team was left with just 74 pounds of ballast and still 2,000 miles away from South America.
Facing a poor weather forecast that would lead to even lower altitudes with little ballast remaining, NASA preemptively ended the flight to ensure the greatest level of control and safety during descent.
“It’s unfortunate that our flight has come to an end at this point—our goal was at least two weeks and our hope was for many more weeks beyond that,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “We were able to collect a great amount of flight data, however, which we’ll analyze in the coming weeks and months to see if we can determine a cause for the leak. We’ll apply lessons learned to future flights as we continue to develop this technology.”
Flying on this year’s SPB test flight was the International Extreme Universe Space Observatory-SPB payload. EUSO-SPB is a high-energy cosmic ray particle astrophysics payload testing a fluorescence detector and its supporting technologies under the severe operating conditions of the stratosphere.
“The international EUSO Collaboration is deeply thankful for the support, expertise, and dedication of NASA to this historic opportunity to open a new window onto the universe,” said Angela V. Olinto, professor at the University of Chicago and principal investigator (PI) of the project. “Our flight was cut short, but we are confident that the super pressure balloon approach to observing the most energetic cosmic particles will pioneer a new understanding of these extreme phenomena.”
“EUSO-SPB performed well, and more than 60 GB of data was downloaded to ground," said, Lawrence Wiencke, professor at the Colorado School of Mines and deputy PI for the EUSO-SPB flight. "We are looking forward to analyzing the data and to another super pressure balloon flight with NASA.”
NASA conducted a thorough environmental analysis of an open-ocean landing before beginning its mid-latitude SPB flight program in 2015. The open-ocean flight termination procedure makes use of the two-ton flight payload as an anchor to pull the entire balloon flight train to the bottom of the ocean as quickly as possible. In this way, the balloon does not remain in the primary water column zone where most marine species are known to live, minimizing environmental impacts.
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.