December 30, 1998
RELEASE NO. 98-099
Launch set for THIS WEEK
Langley Has Role in Balloon Attempt to Circle Globe
When the Team RE/MAX balloon goes aloft this week in an effort
to circumnavigate the planet, it will carry a science payload from
NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
The launch from Alice Springs, Australia, is planned for either
New Year's Day or the next day, depending on weather conditions.
Onboard the balloon will be a NASA Langley payload that uses Global
Positioning System (GPS) equipment to determine the surface
roughness and wind speeds of the ocean below.
"The ability to measure such conditions has important potential
applications for shipping, sailing, and environmental research,"
said Dr. Steve Katzberg, of the Space Systems and Concepts Division
at NASA Langley. "Already the system is being applied to map
wetlands, and information gleaned from future spaceborne
applications of this low-cost technology should aid in short-term
weather forecasting and long-term climate prediction."
Langley's "bistatic scatterometer" will process information on a
laptop computer using an antenna and a GPS signal reflected off the
water below. By analyzing the characteristics of the return signal,
researchers will determine the surface roughness of the water, and
from that, the wind speed.
One of the objectives of the project is to determine if the
system works at extremely high altitudes. The scatterometer already
has been flown in NASA airplanes and on another balloon that
reached 90,000 feet. The Team RE/MAX balloon plans to reach 130,000
feet. The next step would be putting the system on multiple
satellites to provide worldwide coverage.
The Langley instrument on the Team RE/MAX craft is the same one
that flew in a balloon launched in August from NASA Wallops Flight
Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. That launch involved
NASA, The Virginia Space Grant Consortium, a coalition of Virginia
universities and other state educational entities.
Dr. Jim Garrison, now at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md., was a co-pioneer of the GPS work with Katzberg.
Garrison developed the modifications of the GPS receivers for
operation at balloon altitudes for the Virginia launch and the Team
Team RE/MAX mission goals include being the first manned balloon
flight around the world, a new manned ballooning altitude record
(130,000 feet), and scientific studies. Many similarly constructed
unmanned NASA balloons have circled the earth via the Southern
Hemisphere, but no manned balloon has made it around the world.
The 22,800-mile journey is expected to take 16 to 18 days.
Built by Raven Industries using the same specifications as NASA
scientific balloons that fly in the stratosphere, the Team RE/MAX
balloon carries a 6,000-pound, 8-foot by 7-foot, pressurized
gondola that will reach the stratosphere four hours after
Filled with 170,000 cubic feet of helium for launch, the balloon
envelope expands to nearly 40 million cubic feet - about 459 feet
in diameter - at full cruising altitude. Fully expanded, the
balloon envelope could hold the Houston Astrodome.
Alice Springs, Australia, is used by NASA for balloon launches
and is just south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The Team RE/MAX
flight path is expected to be a mostly straight line west over
Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia on the
African continent; Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile in South
America; numerous small islands; and thousands of miles over the
Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
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