Feeds

NASA deploys huge clingfilm strato-pumpkin over Antarctic

Giant Peach? Pah

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA balloon boffins are chuffed to announce that they have successfully launched a new prototype gasbag into the stratosphere above the Antarctic. The designers hope soon to produce a colossal pumpkin-shaped balloon made of material similar to clingfilm, able to cruise on the fringes of space carrying a one-tonne instrument package for months on end.

NASA impression of a long-duration superpressure balloon at float height

Flying pumpkins garnished with CREAM over Antarctica.

The current one-third-volume prototype took off from the US scientific base at McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Dec 28. It has now reached its cruising altitude of 111,000ft and is happily circling the south pole without difficulties.

"This flight test is a very important step forward in building a new capability for scientific ballooning," said NASA's W Vernon Jones. "The team has further work to do to enable the super pressure balloon to lift a one-ton instrument to a float altitude of 110,000 feet, but they are on the right path."

NASA wants long-duration balloons able to lift big instrument packages out of most of the Earth's atmosphere because they are much cheaper than satellites, and offer nearly as good a platform for observing such things as cosmic rays, neutrinos and so forth. It is also feasible to recover and re-use the instruments, which isn't normally an option with spacecraft.

The new generation of NASA "super pressure" balloons are so called because they are designed to operate with their internal lifting gas at a small but noticeable increment above ambient pressure. They are "essentially very large pressure vessels", according to the space agency's balloon boffins at Wallops Island, Virginia.

The overpressure inside the massive gasbags is contained by an envelope made of thin lightweight polyethylene film, "about the thickness of ordinary plastic food wrap". This would rupture on its own, even under the very gentle overpressure used by the NASA designers, so the clingfilm balloon is held together by zylon "tendons" reaching from top centre to bottom centre of the envelope. Once the envelope is at float height and fully inflated these give it a flattened, lobed shape likened to a colossal flying pumpkin.

David Pierce, chief of the Wallops Island balloon lab, says that "the test flight has demonstrated that 100 day flights of large, heavy payloads is a realistic goal."

Other balloon tests have also been carried out from McMurdo Station in the ongoing Antarctic summer. In particular the University of Maryland's Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM IV) floater took off on Dec 19 and set down on Tuesday. The CREAM bag gleaned valuable readings of cosmic rays emitted by faraway supernova star explosions, according to NASA.

Tracker maps showing the position of NASA's balloons over the austral continent can be viewed here. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.