Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Balloon Rise Over Fort Sumner

03.09.2014

If the stratospheric winds are favorable, a giant balloon will soon rise over the desert, carrying aloft X-Calibur, a cutting-edge telescope

Many a child has forgotten to hold tight to the string of a helium balloon only to have it escape and rise until it disappeared in the glare of the sun. Helium balloons want to rise, but launching a balloon big enough to hold a 747 jetliner with room to spare at the nose and tail and both wingtips isn’t as easy as just letting it go.


NASA

High-pressure helium from Kelly trucks carrying gas cylinders rushes through fill tubes extending from the top of a balloon that is pinned to the ground by a spool truck. The rest of the balloon's flight train is laid out on the ground to the right. The photos in this article were taken during several different balloon campaigns, this one in Antarctica.

In a few days, a balloon-borne telescope sensitive to the polarization of high-energy “hard” X rays will ascend to the edge of the atmosphere above Fort Sumner, N.M., to stare fixedly at black holes and other exotic astronomical objects. It will be carried aloft by one of those 747-jetliner-sized balloons.

When X-Calibur, as the polarimeter is called, looks to the skies, it will see things that have never been seen before because it is looking at characteristics of high-energy light that astronomers are just beginning to explore. Last year Henric Krawczynski, PhD, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and X-Calibur’s principal investigator, described X-Calibur’s mission in an episode of the university’s “Hold that Thought” podcast called “Beautifully Bright Black Holes.”

While the scientific team works to make sure the instrument is flight ready, we asked Scott Barthelmy, PhD, a Washington University graduate who works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and is the veteran of many stratospheric balloon campaigns, to describe how the giant balloon is launched. What follows is an edited transcript of his description.

SCOTT BARTHELMY: Before launch the entire flight train, consisting of the fan-folded balloon, a “flight ladder” of steel cables, and a parachute and its shroud lines, is laid out on heavy-duty tarps between two specialized launch vehicles, the spool truck and the launch truck.

The balloon, made of plastic as thin as a dry-cleaning bag, rises to a float height of about 120,000 feet, which is three or four times higher than the cruising altitude of commercial airliners. At that height it is above all but half of 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere.

Once the balloon is laid out, the top end is threaded under the spool on the spool vehicle. The spool is hinged on one side, has a quick release latch on the other, and is coated with Teflon to minimze friction. Valves are then opened on helium-truck hoses and high-pressure helium screams through fill tubes into the tip of the balloon. As the balloon fills, the spool truck moves along the balloon to keep the un-inflated portion stretched out across the ground.

Only the tip of the balloon, called the bubble, is filled because the helium expands by a factor of 200 as it rises mushrooming into a 40-million-cubic-foot sphere, slightly distorted by the weight at the bottom, at float height.

Once the bubble is filled, the launch team waits for a lull in the surface winds and then releases the catchment mechanism on the spool. Strong springs flip the spool out of the way. Now there’s nothing holding the 10,000 pounds of free lift provided by the helium bubble. As the bubble rises, it picks up more and more of the balloon — there’s still about 900 feet laid out on the tarp at this point — and begins to arc over the launch vehicle, a motorized crane that is holding the scientific payload about 10 feet off the ground.

Even though balloons are launched only during the lull at dawn or at dusk, a balloon is a creature of the wind and easily pushed about. It is the launch vehicle’s job to compensate for crosswinds during the delicate few moments before release by maneuvering the payload beneath the rising and drifting balloon.

When the balloon is directly above the launch vehicle and at full stretch, a release pin on the end of the crane boom is pulled by a man standing on the front of the crane.

If the pin is pulled at just the right moment, the balloon will be lofting the full weight of the payload. If it is pulled too early and the balloon hasn’t picked up that weight, the payload will fall to the ground and smash. The balloon must be pulling upward but it can’t be pulling too hard, or the release pin may jam. And it must be a few degrees past vertical, not directly overhead. If it’s directly overhead it might drag the payload through the crane instead of out and away from the crane.

Everything will be lined up and moving in the right direction for only five or 10 seconds. The man on the crane judges the moment, pulling on a lanyard to pop the pin, freeing the balloon to rise — at last — into the atmosphere.

The complex choreography of the launch is managed by employees of NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, under a contract administered by the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. In over 40 years of operation, CSBF personnel have launched more than 2,000 balloons.

Armchair observers can watch near-real-time video of the X-Calibur launch on the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website. While the balloon is aloft, it will be tracked on a Google Earth map. Click early and often. The balloon might fly as soon as Labor Day.

Contact Information

Diana Lutz
Senior Science Editor
dlutz@wustl.edu
Phone: 314-935-5272

Diana Lutz | newswise

Further reports about: Facility Flight Space X-Calibur atmosphere bubble fan-folded balloon float

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm
16.02.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Supermassive black hole model predicts characteristic light signals at cusp of collision
15.02.2018 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

Im Focus: Autonomous 3D scanner supports individual manufacturing processes

Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).

Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fingerprints of quantum entanglement

16.02.2018 | Information Technology

'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers

16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>