From the skies of New Zealand, NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) has successfully launched a super pressure balloon (SPB) to investigate the balloon’s enhanced technology on enduring long flights which could last over 100 days. This was also an opportunity to complement the SPB with a sophisticated telescope such as The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) to explore the origins of galactic positrons, examine the galaxy’s nucleosynthesis, and measuring polarization from Gamma ray eruptions and black holes. This launch is the second attempt of equipping the SPB along with The Compton Spectrometer and Imager for a multi-purposed exploratory mission.
The enormous 18.8 million cubic foot balloon has flown in a trajectory path of 110,000 feet in altitude in just over 2 hours. The SPB was guided by the winds of Wanaka, New Zealand to float all the way to southern Australia before crossing over to the stratosphere zone. Depending on wind speeds in the stratospheric region, it has been estimated by NASA that the gigantic balloon will circumnavigate the globe once every one to three weeks.
Not only this, the launch is also considered the fifth attempt of testing the Carolina Infrasound Instrument’s (CII) performance in the stratospheric space to record acoustic wave field activity. Previous experimental trials using the University of North Carolina’s developed instrument (CII) was believed to record low frequency sounds that are new to science. Prior attempts were not as operational since the weather conditions weren’t convenient enough to launch the SPB out to the stratosphere. NASA’s current record for the SPB flight is 54 days. Residents in countries such as Argentina, South Africa and others that are in the southern hemisphere region may actually see the balloon floating during its journey, especially during sunrise.
These similar experiments by NASA are now introducing a new approach for future scientific explorations related to astrophysics and other atmospheric related studies near outer space, at a significantly lower cost.
Today the NASA Flight Facility in Virginia is managing the SPB program with at least 10 flights annually from different launch sites worldwide. Alongside with Orbital ATK which provides planning and engineering services to the balloon program, the CSBF crew has managed to launch over 1,700 pressure balloons over a period of 35 years.