NASA's Three Long Duration Balloon Missions Working Over Antarctica
For the second time, the NASA Scientific Balloon Program managed at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA, has three separate Long Duration Balloon (LDB) science missions afloat collecting data simultaneously. The previous time was during the 2007-2008 Antarctic campaign.
The three missions in the current Antarctic summer Campaign, SuperTIGER, BLAST, and EBEX, were launched by NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in December 2012 from the LDB site near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
The LDB site was established at Willy Field, McMurdo Station, in order to take advantage of the stratospheric anticyclone wind pattern circulating from east to west around the South Pole. The stratospheric wind circulation combined with the sparsely populated continent of Antarctica allows for long duration balloon flights at altitudes above 100,000 feet.
Super-TIGER was launched at 3:45 pm EST Dec 8, 2012. Super-TIGER, or Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder, is flying a new instrument for measuring the rare heavy elements among the flux of high-energy cosmic rays bombarding the Earth from elsewhere in our Milky Way Galaxy. The information retrieved from this mission will be used to develop an understanding where these energetic atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high energies.
The principal investigator of the SuperTIGER mission is Dr. Walter Binns of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. The 39-million cubic foot scientific balloon is carrying SuperTIGER at a float altitude of 127,000 feet.
The second mission to launch in the campaign was BLAST, or the Balloon Borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope, launched Dec. 25 at 1:57 p.m. EST. Galactic magnetic fields can polarize submillimeter-emitting micron-sized dust particles in star forming regions. The resulting emission is slightly polarized. By measuring the level of polarization, BLAST can help determine if magnetic fields are a dominant force over turbulence in regulating star formation in our Galaxy.
BLAST’s principal investigator is Dr. Mark Devlin of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The 39-million cubic foot scientific balloon is at a float altitude of 126,000 feet.
The third and final mission of the Antarctic campaign was the heaviest payload ever launched aboard a NASA scientific balloon. Weighing in at 8,000 pounds, the EBEX experiment launched Dec. 29 at 7:27 p.m. EST. EBEX, or E&B Experiment, measures cosmic microwave background radiation, particularly its polarization. The cosmic microwave background is a type of radiation that fills the entire observable universe and is a relic remnant from the beginning of the universe. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background in the 1960's is a landmark confirmation of the big-bang model. EBEX is searching for signals from an inflationary expansion of the universe, which is thought to have taken place a fraction of a second after the big bang.
Aside from being the heaviest payload ever launched aboard a NASA scientific balloon, EBEX is physically the largest payload ever to be flown by any balloon program worldwide. The 34 million cubic foot scientific balloon is carrying EBEX at a float altitude of 118,000 feet.
The principal investigator of the EBEX mission is Dr. Shaul Hanany of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
All three missions are still afloat over the Antarctic continent. They are monitored from the Operations Control Center at NASA’s CSBF in Palestine, Texas. BLAST and EBEX will stay afloat for another week; the flights will then be terminated at a location near McMurdo Station. SuperTIGER may stay afloat for several more weeks.
“I’m very proud of the NASA, CSBF, science, NSF/OPP and USAP personnel who have made this tremendous achievement possible” said Debora Fairbrother, chief of the NASA Balloon Program Office.
The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistic support for all U.S. scientific operations in Antarctica. The NSF Antarctic Support Contractor (ASC) provides material support to the NASA Balloon Program, including support of launch and recovery operations throughout the Antarctic Campaign.
In addition, the Balloon Array for RPSP (Radiation Belt Storm Probes) Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL) campaign is being conducted separately and independently of the NASA Balloon Program’s LDB Antarctic Campaign. The BARREL missions are hand launched balloons conducted by the science team from the remote sites of SANAE IV and Halley Research Station.
To follow the BARREL campaign activities, visit: http://relativisticballoons.blogspot.com/
To monitor the real time flight tracks of the long duration balloons on the Internet, visit: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/antarctica/ice.htm
For more information about NASA’s Balloon Program on the Internet, visit: http://www.wff.nasa.gov/balloons