NASA Sends A Massive Superpressure Balloon To The Edge Of Space

Posted: Apr 26 2017, 1:53pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Sends a Massive Superpressure Balloon to the Edge of Space
Credit: NASA/Bill Rodman

The balloon and the telescope inside it will help unravel mysteries of cosmic rays

On April 24, NASA launched a football-stadium-sized, pressure balloon from an airfield in New Zealand. The balloon is carrying a telescope that is designed to study the cosmic rays found in the Earth’s atmosphere. The ultraviolent camera attached to the telescope is capable of taking 400,000 images a second and aims to provide more insight into the mysterious particles.

“The mission is searching for the most energetic cosmic particles ever observed,” said Angela Olinto, a professor at the University of Chicago and lead investigator of the project. “The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?”

The massive superpressure balloon will fly over the Southern Hemisphere at an altitude of 110,100 feet for as long as 100 days. If successful, it would be a record-breaking flight. The previous flight record of 46 days was set in 2016.

As the balloon will stay afloat for many months, it may be visible from the ground, particularly to those people who live in mid-latitudes of Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, Argentina and South Africa.

NASA uses multiple types of balloons to life scientific payloads and to study Earth’s atmosphere. Currently, the most used balloons are zero-pressure and super-pressure. Though either balloon can be beneficial for any experiment in upper atmosphere, zero pressure is mostly suitable for short flights, whereas a super-pressure balloon is more helpful in extended flights.

“For decades, balloons have provided access to the near-space environment to support scientific investigations, technology testing, education and workforce development. We’re thrilled to provide this high-altitude flight opportunity for EUSO-SPB as they work to validate their technologies while conducting some really mind-blowing science.” Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA’s Balloon Program Office.

NASA conducted multiple launches for its balloon before targeting flight readiness Wednesday. But all of those flights had to end early due to weather conditions and mechanical issues. Lately, better conditions allowed researchers to smoothly kick-off superpressure balloon campaign. The balloon is expected to circle the planet two to three times during the campaign.

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