NASA's GRIPS balloon team arrives in Antarctica

Members of the GRIPS balloon team began arriving at McMurdo Station in Antarctica in late October 2015. GRIPS, short for Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares, is an instrument that studies the extremely high-energy particles released by solar flares, information that will help scientists pinpoint the processes which set off these explosive events. GRIPS will launch this December, suspended underneath a football-field-sized balloon, and will circle above the frozen Antarctic for several weeks.

The GRIPS team will spend the month of November assembling and testing the instrument and balloon. The opens on Dec. 1, 2015, but the team will have to wait for calm wind conditions to send their payload soaring to heights of nearly 25 miles. Since the sun doesn't set at all for several weeks of the Antarctic summer, GRIPS will be able to observe the sun continuously during much or all of its flight, which the team hopes will last anywhere from 14 to 55 days. The 24/7 summer sunlight also provides a constant source of energy, powering the the entire time.

Scientific balloons are a low-cost way to access Earth's upper atmosphere up to the edge of space, allowing scientists to make measurements that are impossible from the ground.

The GRIPS team integrated and tested their balloon payload at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, July 18-Aug. 28, 2015. After putting the finishing touches on the payload inside the hangar, the team moved GRIPS outside to test its solar panels and communications links. GRIPS will launch on a scientific balloon from McMurdo Station in Antarctica in December 2015 to study high-energy particle radiation released from the sun in conjunction with solar flares. Credit: NASA/GRIPS

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