NASA completes balloon technology test flight, sets flight duration record

NASA completes balloon technology test flight, sets flight duration record

Posted on July 2, 2016 at 5:21 pm by .

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NASA’s Balloon Program Office successfully completed the second test flight of its Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) at 3:54 p.m. EDT, Saturday, July 2, setting a new flight duration record for a mid-latitude flight of a large scientific research balloon.

The mission, which began at 7:35 p.m. EDT, May 16 (11:35 a.m., May 17, in New Zealand time), launched from Wanaka, New Zealand, and ran a total of 46 days, 20 hours, and 19 minutes.

“We’re extremely pleased with the flight time we achieved with this mission, far and away the longest mid-latitude flight of a NASA heavy-lift balloon to date,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “We’ll continue to strive for even longer duration flight, 100 days or more, and what we learn from this year’s mission will help take us there.”

Having identified a safe landing area over the southern tip of Peru, balloon operators from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, sent flight termination commands at 3:14 p.m. EDT, July 2. The 18.8-million-cubic-foot (532,000-cubic-meter) balloon then separated from the payload rapidly deflating, and the payload floated safely to the ground touching down in a mountainous area about 20 miles north of Camana, Peru. NASA coordinated with officials in Peru prior to ending the balloon mission; recovery of the payload and balloon is in progress.

The decision to conclude the mission came after NASA’s balloon operators noted altitude variations during the last few weeks of the flight over the Pacific Ocean. The variance occurred at night and especially when flying over cold storms, with temperatures dropping as low as negative 80 degrees Celsius.

“Balloons are thermal vehicles, and some altitude variance isn’t uncommon during periods of extreme cooling and heating,” said Fairbrother. “Given the occasional periods of altitude variation we noted, and at times the magnitude we observed, we’re eager to retrieve the balloon and payload so we can analyze the flight data and balloon.”

Engineered to fly at 110,000 feet through the day/night cycle, at times the balloon dropped as low as 80,000 feet with the lowest drop nearing 70,000 feet when flying over a severe cold storm. However, at sunrise, the balloon always ascended back to 110,000 feet and repressurized.

One possible explanation for the greater degree of variance seen in this year’s flight, according to program officials, is that the balloon may have bled off some helium during one of the initial, harsher cold storms and then resealed itself. More data is needed, however, to determine the cause of the variance, underscoring the importance of recovering the balloon and payload for analysis.

“At its core, this was always a test flight,” said Fairbrother. “We’re looking forward to the this next phase of analysis. We’ll apply any lessons learned to future missions as we continue to eye our 100-day duration goal.”

A number of “firsts” were marked by this year’s SPB flight. It was the first time SPB carried a science payload, the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), during a mid-latitude flight. The science team from the University of California, Berkeley, detected their first gamma ray burst May 30. Gamma ray bursts are comprised of the most energetic form of light and can last anywhere from milliseconds to several minutes. The phenomenon is associated with many types of deep space astrophysical sources, such as supernovas and the formation of black holes. The COSI gamma ray telescope observed the burst for nearly 10 seconds.

Also, the balloon is the first to complete a mid-latitude circumnavigation, doing so in just 14 days, 13 hours, and 42 minutes. In addition, for NASA’s Balloon Program overall, it was the first time in nearly 25 years the team operated balloons in the northern and southern hemispheres concurrently, with SPB flying in the southern hemisphere and then with balloon flight operations in Palestine, Texas. The Texas flight, known as the Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT), launched June 30 and ran for just over 10 hours.

“This mission marked the most rigorous test yet of a super pressure balloon and brings the NASA and the Orbital ATK Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team even closer to setting a longer flight duration record in the future,” said John Pullen, vice president and general manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Our Orbital ATK CSBF team is proud to have reestablished the CSBF facility as a launch site by successfully conducting the second mission on June 30 that contained the Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope. All of these accomplishments point to future growth for NASA’s scientific balloon program, which continues to offer reliable and affordable options for exploring the universe.”

This was NASA’s second mid-latitude super pressure balloon flight in the southern hemisphere. The first, in 2015, flew for 32 days. The overall flight duration record for an SPB is 54 days of flight, set in 2009 with a 7-million-cubic-foot SPB. The overall flight duration record of any NASA heavy-lift scientific balloon is 55 days, set by the Super-TIGER flight over Antarctica in 2013.

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. Orbital ATK, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, 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 in the over 35 years of operation.

For more information on NASA’s Balloon Program, visit: www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons.

Tweets from Space

http://www.projectedge.net/sentinel/

Tomorrow, two students from Imperial College, London, hope to launch a HAB flight from Cambridge with a Pi in the Sky radio tracker which will tweet.

The project payload will be transmitting on the following frequencies:

Payload ID IBMICLSentinel, RTTY, 434.250MHz, 850Hz shift, 300 baud, 8 N 2, SSDV and telemetry.

Payload ID Sky1LoRa, LoRa, 869.850MHz, “Mode 1” Implicit mode, Error coding 4:5, Bandwidth 20.8kHz, SF 6, Low data rate optimize off SSDV and telemetry.

Payload ID Sky2LoRa, LoRa, 434.750MHz, “Mode 1” Implicit mode, Error coding 4:5, Bandwidth 20.8kHz, SF 6, Low data rate optimize off SSDV and telemetry. Every 30 seconds Sky2LoRa listens for incoming transmissions for 10 seconds.

The payload will also display tweets. If you want your tweet to be displayed then you need to tweet your message to @IBMICLSentinel with #tospace followed by your message.

The HAB flight sits within a wider project in which IBM has collaborated with the Imperial College Electrical Engineering Department to incorporate its image recognition technology and cloud capabilities with low-cost, durable electronics,  in-order to build a groundbreaking cognitive probe which can identify potential hazards. The Sentinel will use its collected data to warn responsible authorities and first-responders in cases of emergency such as forest fires or flooding so that. The sentinel will also analyse social feeds on Twitter to draw a deeper insight into the nature of an unfolding event.

 

Royal Aeronautical Society Balloon Challenge

http://www.bdballoonchallenge.org

boscombe down balloon challenge

The Boscombe Downs branch of the RAeS are running a STEM outreach event for schools. The aim is for schools to

  • Build a working telemetry unit and launch it on a high altitude balloon flight.

 

There are also prizes for the schools that:

 

  • Achieve the highest altitude in flight.

 

  • Achieve the longest time in the air.

 

  • Achieve the furthest distance travelled from your launch site.

The prizes are £1000 each and have been kindly donated by QinetiQ and Southampton University. Also they will provide the helium for the first 18 schools to register. (Other sponsorship may also follow.)
To keep both cost and risk down to a minimum, the competition is limited to pico class balloon flights and helium gas. More information on the rules of the competition can be found at http://www.bdballoonchallenge.org/rules.html

http://www.bdballoonchallenge.org The Boscombe Downs branch of the RAeS are running a STEM outreach event for schools. The aim is for schools to

  • Build a working telemetry unit and launch it on a high altitude balloon flight.

 

There are also prizes for the schools that:

 

  • Achieve the highest altitude in flight.

 

  • Achieve the longest time in the air.

 

  • Achieve the furthest distance travelled from your launch site.

The prizes are £1000 each and have been kindly donated by QinetiQ and Southampton University. Also they will provide the helium for the first 18 schools to register. (Other sponsorship may also follow.)
To keep both cost and risk down to a minimum, the competition is limited to pico class balloon flights and helium gas. More information on the rules of the competition can be found at http://www.bdballoonchallenge.org/rules.html

Super launch in the UK today

Today there will be a ‘super launch’ of 25 high altitude balloons. The flight, due to take off from Severn Park in Bridgnorth are part of a business funded school project supporting science, technology, engineering, and maths. The launch, organised by Sent into Space, can be tracked on the Habitat HAB tracker at

http://tracker.habhub.org

The balloons will be launched from 10:00 onwards and will go up in batches of 5.

 

New 8 mp Raspberry Pi camera

The Raspberry Pi foundation have posted news of their new 8 mega pixel camera which was made available today. This was followed by members of the Pi in the Sky project confirming compatibility. So there will be even better SSDV images from near space for those people flying a PITS board.

Source: https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/new-8-megapixel-camera-board-sale-25/

The 5-megapixel visible-light camera board was our first official accessory back in 2013, and it remains one of your favourite add-ons. They’ve found their way into a bunch of fun projects, including telescopes, kites, science lessons and of course the Naturebytes camera trap. It was soon joined by the Pi NoIR infrared-sensitive version, which not only let you see in the dark, but also opened the door to hyperspectral imaging hacks.

As many of you know, the OmniVision OV5647 sensor used in both boards was end-of-lifed at the end of 2014. Our partners both bought up large stockpiles, but these are now almost completely depleted, so we needed to do something new. Fortunately, we’d already struck up conversation with Sony’s image sensor division, and so in the nick of time we’re able to announce the immediate availability of both visible-light and infrared cameras based on the Sony IMX219 8-megapixel sensor, at the same low price of $25. They’re available today from our partners RS Components and element14, and should make their way to your favourite reseller soon.

Visible light camera v2

...and its infrared cousin

In our testing, IMX219 has proven to be a fantastic choice. You can read all the gory details about IMX219 and the Exmor R back-illuminated sensor architecture on Sony’s website, but suffice to say this is more than just a resolution upgrade: it’s a leap forward in image quality, colour fidelity and low-light performance.

VideoCore IV includes a sophisticated image sensor pipeline (ISP). This converts “raw” Bayer-format RGB input images from the sensor into YUV-format output images, while correcting for sensor and module artefacts such as thermal and shot noise, defective pixels, lens shading and image distortion. Tuning the ISP to work with a particular sensor is a time-consuming, specialist activity: there are only a handful of people with the necessary skills, and we’re very lucky that Naush Patuck, formerly of Broadcom’s imaging team, volunteered to take this on for IMX219.

Naush says:

Regarding the tuning process, I guess you could say the bulk of the effort went into the lens shading and AWB tuning. Apart from the fixed shading correction, our auto lens shading algorithm takes care of module to module manufacturing variations. AWB is tricky because we must ensure correct results over a large section of the colour temperature curve; in the case of the IMX219, we used images illuminated by light sources from 1800K [very “cool” reddish light] all the way up to 16000K [very “hot” bluish light].

The goal of auto white balance (AWB) is to recover the “true” colours in a scene regardless of the colour temperature of the light illuminating it: filming a white object should result in white pixels in sunlight, or under LED, fluorescent or incandescent lights. You can see from these pairs of before and after images that Naush’s tune does a great job under very challenging conditions.

AWB with high colour temperature

AWB at lower colour temperature

As always, we’re indebted to a host of people for their help getting these products out of the door. Dave Stevenson and James Hughes (hope you and Elaine are having a great honeymoon, James!) wrote most of our camera platform code. Mike Stimson designed the board (his second Raspberry Pi product after Zero). Phil Holden, Shinichi Goseki, Qiang Li and many others at Sony went out of their way to help us get access to the information Naush needed to tune the ISP.

We’re really happy with the way the new camera board has turned out, and we can’t wait to see what you do with it. Head over to RS Components or element14 to pick one up today.

Tractive pet tracker offers a low cost alternative to sim based GSM locators

Tractive pet tracker offers a low cost alternative to sim based GSM locators Tractive is a new subscription based GSM locator that, while designed for the pet tracking market, offers a low cost solution to balloon payload location. The locators have been designed to give pet owners an online or smart phone based solution to pet tracking. Weighing only 35g grams and costing £4.49 a month, they are ideal for inclusion in HAB payloads to aid recovery. They also have the added advantage, over conventional text reactive based locators, in providing limited tracking through a conventional map interface in the initial and final phase of payload flights.

We put Tractive to the test this month in a HAB flight, launching from Shrewsbury and landing near Leominster in Herefordshire. More details can be found here. The tracker was placed at the bottom of the payload box next to a Zlog GPS data logger, and adjacent to a SPOT satellite messenger and GO PRO Hero camera. Tractive provided tracking for the first 3 minutes of flight when there was a good 3G signal.

IMG_4860

Tractive also displayed the final 4 minutes of flight, correctly identifying the final landing site of the payload. In the latter case, there was a moderate strength 2G signal.

IMG_0933

There were a number of features we found particularly useful on the Tractive:

A charge clamp which gave a very good contact on the tracker. An audible tone to indicate power off and power on.

A live track mode which constantly updates the tracker location on the map interface.

The option to choice between monthly or annual subscription payments. This is especially useful if you have a short flying season.

While proving to be a handy locator, we do think that the Tractive interface could be improved by showing the time of the last location report on the map interface. This gives the user some reassurance as to the age of the last location report; an important factor when dealing with a moving asset.