NASA to fly six scientific balloons from New Mexico

NASA to fly six scientific balloons from New Mexico
The Salter technology test flight launched Aug. 23, 2022, from Fort Sumner New Mexico. Credit: NASA's Wallops Flight Facility

NASA's Scientific Balloon Program is moving full-steam ahead into the fall 2022 campaign with six scientific, engineering, and student balloon flights supporting 17 missions. The flights are scheduled to launch from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, from mid-August through mid-October.

With one balloon already off the ground, a carrying several different technology payloads and other piggyback missions, the team hopes to launch the five remaining balloons by the end of the launch window in support of multiple science and technology initiatives.

"Our balloon platforms can lift several thousand pounds to the edge of space, allowing for multiple, various scientific instruments, technologies, and education payloads to fly together on one balloon flight," said Debbie Fairbrother, Scientific Balloon Program chief at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Some of the flying this campaign include the BALloon-Based Observations for sunlit Aurora (BALBOA), testing a wide-view infrared camera designed to study daytime auroras; the Planetary Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Recoverable Experiment—Coronagraph (PICTURE-C) mission that will directly image and characterize dust and debris orbiting with the possibility of detecting bright, gas outside our solar system using a telescope; the TinMan mission hopes to better understand the effects of thermal neutrons in Earth's atmosphere on aircraft electronics; and the 16th High-Altitude Student Platform (HASP) mission that will fly 12 student-built payloads.

NASA to fly six scientific balloons from New Mexico
The Salter technology test flight payload hangs from the gondola as it prepares for flight. Credit: NASA's Wallops Flight Facility

Additionally, the team will support two technology test flights for NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), Salter and Mullenax, during the campaign.

To follow the missions in the 2022 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.

Most of these missions will fly on NASA heavy-lift, zero-pressure scientific balloons, some of which can be as large as a football stadium when fully inflated. These balloons have open ducts to allow gas to escape, and to prevent the pressure inside the balloon from building up during gas expansion as the balloon rises above Earth's surface. The duration of this type of balloon is generally limited to only a few days because of gas loss, mostly due to the day/night cycling of the balloon.

NASA's scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for suspended payloads weighing up to 8,000 pounds to conduct technology demonstration tests as well as scientific investigations in fields such as astrophysics, heliophysics, and atmospheric research. Depending on the goals and objectives of a specific mission, flight durations can run hours to multiple days or weeks for longer-term tests and data collection.

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