December 30, 1998
RELEASE NO. 98-099
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 RE/MAX mission.
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 launch.
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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