NASA scientific balloons to return to flight

December 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's scientific balloon program is resuming flights this month after an extensive evaluation of its safety processes following a mishap during an April launch attempt from Australia. NASA's high-altitude balloons fly instruments for scientific and technological investigations that contribute to our understanding of Earth, the solar system, and the universe.

In October, a NASA mishap review board listed 25 causes that contributed to the accident, including insufficient risk analysis, contingency planning, personnel training, government oversight and public safety accommodations. More information on the investigation is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/business/foia/_mishap.html

"NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops Flight Facility, and contractor balloon team have done an outstanding job over the past eight months to develop and implement plans to return the balloons to flight," said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We look forward to once again conducting groundbreaking science with these balloon systems."

To prepare for the resumption of flights, NASA developed a corrective action plan to address the recommendations from the mishap review. To return to flight, NASA has:

- Developed a more stringent launch safety area in which the balloon can maneuver in order to protect the safety of the public;
- Revised the safety procedures used to conduct balloon launches;
- Instituted NASA independent ground and flight safety roles to ensure that balloon launches are conducted safely;
- Redesigned the launch head mechanism that failed to work properly during the Australia aborted launch;
- Developed plans to better respond to mishaps and close calls with respect to balloon launch operations.

NASA has approved flights that are scheduled throughout this month over Antarctica. During the Antarctica flights, NASA will use a vehicle that was specifically designed to launch the balloons instead of a commercially obtained mobile crane, which was used during the mishap in Australia. The launch vehicle is built to handle the large, long-duration balloon (LDB) payloads on the compacted snow launch surface. The LDB program in Antarctica is a partnership between NASA and the National Science Foundation, and is carried out through the U.S. Antarctic Program -- a continuous national research presence on the continent since 1956 that is managed by NSF.

NASA's scientific balloons are composed of a lightweight polyethylene film, similar to sandwich wrap. Flying to altitudes of nearly 25 miles, many of the balloons inflate to almost the size of a football stadium and carry payloads weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages NASA's scientific balloon program for the Science Mission Directorate. Under NASA supervision, launch operations are conducted by the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, which is managed by the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

Explore further: NASA Research Balloon Makes Record-Breaking Flight

More information: sites.wff.nasa.gov/code820/

Related Stories

NASA Research Balloon Makes Record-Breaking Flight

January 28, 2005

Flying near the edge of space, a NASA scientific balloon broke the flight record for duration and distance. It soared for nearly 42 days, making three orbits around the South Pole. The record-breaking balloon, almost as ...

New Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

January 9, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA and the National Science Foundation have successfully launched and demonstrated a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that may enable a new era of high-altitude scientific research. The super-pressure ...

Recommended for you

'Bathtub rings' suggest Titan's dynamic seas

July 28, 2015

Saturn's moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated ...

Born-again planetary nebula

July 28, 2015

Beneath the vivid hues of this eye-shaped cloud, named Abell 78, a tale of stellar life and death is unfolding. At the centre of the nebula, a dying star – not unlike our Sun – which shed its outer layers on its way to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.