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NASA Scientific Balloons Take to the Sky in New Mexico

NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program will take flight with eight planned launches from the agency’s balloon launch facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, flying scientific experiments to a near-space environment via a football-stadium-sized NASA balloon. The 2023 fall balloon campaign window opens August 10.

Oct. 6, 2023: All launch operations for the 2023 fall balloon campaign from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, have concluded. Five primary payloads were successfully launched and recovered during the campaign. While unfavorable conditions delayed both EXCITE and TinMan, the missions will receive launch opportunities during a future campaign. 

Sept. 28, 2023: JPL-Remote mission launched on scientific balloon at 8:19 a.m. MDT, Wednesday, Sept. 27, out of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, with clear skies and calm winds. The balloon and payload ascended to an altitude of nearly 128,000 feet, in which science objectives were met, and both were successfully recovered. The EXCITE and TinMan missions await the next launch opportunity.

Sept. 26, 2023: The FIREBall-2 mission launched at 11 a.m. MDT Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and ascended to a float altitude of 124,000 feet. After several hours at float, the balloon experienced an anomaly and began descending in altitude. The mission team safely terminated flight at 9:19 p.m. MDT west of Clovis, New Mexico, and NASA is in the process of recovering the payload and balloon. The cause of the anomaly will be investigated.

Sept. 8, 2023: The High-Altitude Student Platform (HASP) successfully launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 at 10:56 a.m. EDT (8:56 a.m. MDT). Recovery of the balloon and payload is underway. EXCITE, FIREBall-2, and JPL Remote teams ready for the next flights in the fall campaign.

Aug. 27, 2023: The GRAPE mission successfully launched on a scientific balloon from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023 at 10:59 a.m. EDT (8:59 a.m. MDT). Next the teams are getting ready for the EXCITE and FIREBall-2 missions.

Aug. 20, 2023: The first scientific balloon of the fall campaign took flight Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, at 9:20 a.m. EDT (7:20 a.m. MDT) from Fort Sumner, New Mexico with the successful launch and recovery of the Salter Test Flight. Teams continue to prepare for the GRAPE mission flight.

scientific balloon being inflated before release.
A scientific balloon for the fall campaign is inflated before it will be released for flight. Credits: NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program will take flight with eight planned launches from the agency’s balloon launch facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, flying scientific experiments to a near-space environment via a football-stadium-sized NASA balloon.

The 2023 fall balloon campaign window opens August 10 and features 24 payloads led by teams of scientists, engineers, and students.

“Our annual Fort Sumner campaign is always our most ambitious and packed with cutting-edge science developed from teams here in the United States and around the world,” said Debbie Fairbrother, Scientific Balloon Program chief at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

One mission on deck is the Exoplanet Climate Infrared Telescope (EXCITE). The mission features a suborbital astronomical telescope developed to study Jupiter-type exoplanets orbiting other stars. After this fall’s engineering test flight, a flight on a long-duration super pressure balloon is planned.

The EXCITE mission team is composed of members from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Arizona State University, Brown University, Cornell University, University of Oxford, University of Rome, StarSpec Technologies, Inc., University of Toronto, and University College London.

Some additional missions set to fly during the fall campaign include:

  • Gamma-Ray Polarimeter Experiment (GRAPE): Instrument will measure the Crab nebula to demonstrate imaging and polarization of gamma-ray bursts.
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) REMOTE: Instruments will address science issues in NASA’s Atmospheric Composition focus area, including providing validations data for NASA satellites.
  • Faint Intergalactic-medium Redshifted Emission Balloon (FIREBall-2): The mission features an ultraviolet multi-object spectrograph designed to detect faint emission from the circumgalactic medium of nearby galaxies.
  • High-Altitude Student Platform (HASP): This platform assists in training the next generation of aerospace scientists and engineers. On board experiments include an Ozone detection system and an electron spectrometer telescope. A flight test of experimental hardware for larger future experiments will be conducted.
  • Testbed for High-Acuity Imaging and Stable Photometry and Image-Motion Compensation (THAI-SPICE): The goal of this project is to build and demonstrate a fine-pointing system for stratospheric payloads with balloon-borne telescopes.
  • Thermalized Neutron Measurement Experiment (TinMan): This mission features a 60-pound payload designed to address concerns about thermal neutron effects on avionics.
The 2021 HASP is suspended from the payload launch vehicle awaiting launch from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. Credits: NASA

Sixteen smaller payloads, called piggyback missions, will ride along during the launches as a valuable and efficient means of supporting additional science and technology development. One of these missions, ComPair, is a Goddard instrument that will test new technologies for studying gamma rays. 

Scientific balloons are a quick and cost-effective way to test, track, and recover scientific experiments for NASA and universities from all over the world. Zero Pressure Balloons, used in the upcoming fall campaign, feature open ducts that allow gas to escape and prevent an increase in pressure from inside the balloon. Gas expansion occurs as it heats during the balloon’s rise above Earth’s surface. These balloons typically have a shorter flight duration due to the loss of gas from the cycle of day to night.

To follow the missions in the 2023 Fort Sumner fall campaign, visit NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website for real-time updates of a balloon’s altitude and GPS location during flight.

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. Peraton, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in 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 over some 40 years of operations. NASA’s balloons are fabricated by Aerostar. The NASA Scientific Balloon Program is funded by the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division.

For more information on NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program, visit:

Olivia Littleton
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA



Last Updated
Oct 10, 2023
Jamie Adkins
Wallops Flight Facility