Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Little Balloon that Could

After a fabulous five-day flight, we have just cut down the first payload that we launched this year.  The balloon had a double portion of passion, was full to the brim with tenacity, and just would not give up.  Its constant thought was "I think I can, I think I can."  Even though it didn't go quite as high, initially, as we hoped it would, and even though it didn't travel in the direction we hoped it would, it continued to perform miraculously to the end.  Its original float altitude was 112,000 feet.  Even just in the last twelve hours, it rose nearly 30,000 feet back up to over 112,000 feet, baffling even the most experienced of balloon experts.  And it was even able to detect some high energy aurora!

Actually, I'm partially joking here, we are not as sentimental as all that.  We have had a good time, though, joking that this was the "Little Balloon that Could."  It was indeed a lot of fun to watch throughout its flight, as it did some amazing things.  The reason for cutting it down was that it was getting within a few hundred miles of airline flight routes.  The decision to cut it down came today after an analysis of its altitude performance and current trajectory.  Since it initially travelled nearly due north for the first part of its flight, it was just a tad bit too far north to allow it to continue.  We here at McMurdo think it was unfortunate to terminate it so soon, especially since we think it could have continued for much longer.  We are pleased, though, with the results we achieved with this balloon and this flight.

Here's the final flight path of the Little Balloon that Could:

2010-12-19 2:57pm (NZDT)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Launching Again (Maybe!)

Robyn and I are going to be attempting, with the help of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility team, another launch in 8-11 hours from now!  There's a narrow window of good surface weather that would allow us to launch, and so we're going to go for it!

Also, here's an image I took off of my iPod from my favorite app "Planets."  The little red cross is where our payload is.  This is what the earth will look like at 1am local time (roughly solar midnight).  You can see that the payload is right at the edge of where the sunlight hits the earth.  The payload is at 101,000 feet, so the sun won't quite set on the payload, I think.  But this means that our solar panels will be receiving very little sunlight for a short period tonight.  It'll be a good test of our battery and power system tonight!

FYI, as of the posting of this entry, the payload is exactly 885.4 miles due north of McMurdo Station!  It's at 101,000 feet altitude too.

2010-12-18 at 12:05am (NZDT)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We're Over Land!

Our Payload is over land!  We've seen some of the solar panel temperatures rise, which as I explained yesterday, is to be expected.  And so far, everything is working fine!

Our Payload is at:
72.4253 South Latitude
168.8505 East Longitude
108,005 Feet Altitude

It's now been just over 48 hours that our payload has been up, and it seems to be quite healthy!  That is, the balloon is keeping a consistent altitude and the payload is fully functional!  These are very good things!

Here's two maps of the payload's trajectory:

Image from CSBF and Google Earth. 
Image from CSBF and Google Earth.

And as I mentioned yesterday, our solar panels can be at very different temperatures at the same time.  Here's a screenshot of our current solar panel temperatures.  Keep in mind that these temperatures are in Celsius, and that we often see even more extreme cases of different temperatures!

2010-12-16 at 11:04am (NZDT)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

28.5 Hours Into First Flight of 2010

The payload we launched yesterday is currently at:

75.5433 South Latitude
172.4821 East Longitude
108,827 Feet Altitude

Here are some maps of where our payload is!
Image from CSBF.

Image from CSBF and Google Earth.

Image from CSBF and Google Earth.

Ross Island.
The marker represents where LDB is, from where we launched the payload.
Image from CSBF and Google Earth.

Right now, as you can see, our payload is directly over the Ross Sea.  We'd really like our payload to go over the white snow/ice of the continent, as opposed to over water.  The reason is that the snow/ice has a much greater albedo than the water, (i.e. snow/ice reflects a great deal more sunlight than the water back up at the sky).  The more sunlight that is reflected by the surface of the earth/snow/water up at our payload, the hotter it will become.  Just as when you stand in the sun you feel warmer than when you stand in the shade (even though the air temperature is the same), so too our payload "feels" warmer when it has more light hitting it.

Our solar panels can be as hot as 100C or as cool as 0C.  The temperature of a panel is mainly determined by how much radiation it receives from the sun directly, but can also be affected by how much radiation it receives from below and from the payload itself.  At any given moment, the solar panel facing the sun can be at an extremely hot temperature while the panel facing away from the sun can be at an extremely low temperature.  Last year, some of our solar panels failed due to getting too hot and from going through too many hot/cold cycles as the payload rotated.

Thus, the main objective in the current BARREL campaign is to verify that the new solar panels we are using will be functional in the whole range of temperatures they experience.  We mainly want to see that they survive the hottest temperatures possible, which is why we would really like our payload to float over the continent, so it experiences a greater dose of reflected sunlight radiation.

So here's to hoping that the payload begins to travel to the west!

2010-12-15 3:14pm (NZDT)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Photo from the 1st Launch

Here's a photo from today's successful balloon launch!  The launch went very well, but the payload has been ascending a bit more slowly than we were expecting.  All is well, so far, though!

2010-12-14 at 4:13pm (NZDT)

Launching 1st Payload Now!

We're launching now!

For live video, go to:

And click on live video!

2010-12-14 9:50am (NZDT)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2nd Launch Attempt Scheduled

Surface weather seems better for tomorrow, so we're going to try for a launch then!  Currently it's scheduled for 10:30am on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 local time, but it could be slightly earlier or later than that by an hour or two, depending on what we think the weather is doing.  (That's 4:30pm EST on Monday, December 13, 2010.)

Here are some photos from today's "practice" run:

2010-12-13 3:13pm (NZDT)

1st Launch Attempt Cancelled

Hi all,

Our launch today has been cancelled.  We're a bit bummed, since it's a further delay, but surface winds were just too strong.  At the surface it was 5-7 knots and above that a bit, it was 11-12 knots.  Up a few hundred feet the winds pick up to 20-30 knots, but that's fine since that only affects our balloon once it's been let go of.

When we know more about when the next launch may be, we'll let you all know.  I'll post a few photos of today's exercise later, too.

2010-12-13 1:15pm (NZDT)

Launch 1 Soon (still)!

Hi all,
We're now about 30 minutes to an hour away from a launch, hopefully!  I'll keep this blog posted as progress is made!

You can go here for more information:

posted at 12:03pm local time at McMurdo (Monday)
posted at 6:03pm EST (Sunday)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Launch 1 Soon!

We hope to launch our first balloon around 11am tomorrow local time!

Monday, December 13, 2010 at 11:00am McMurdo Time
Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 2:00pm PST
Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 5:00pm EST

Wish us luck!