United States space scientists are to test new technologies for a powerful space-based telescope in an high-altitude balloon flight from New Zealand’s South Island.
The launch, planned for late March or early April, would send the 532,000-cubic-meter SPB into what it described as “one of the most dynamic and severe flight regimes inside the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The balloon would ascend to an altitude of 33.5 km, where the stratospheric winds will propel it on a weeks-long journey around the Southern Hemisphere.
“With 32 days of flight in 2015 and 46 days in 2016, we hope to build on the successes and lessons learned of our past campaigns as we seek even longer duration flights at mid-latitudes,” NASA balloon program office chief Debbie Fairbrother said in a statement.
The balloon, which is as big as a sports stadium, would fly the University of Chicago’s Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO-SPB), a high-energy cosmic ray particle astrophysics payload.
The EUSO-SPB would test a fluorescence detector and supporting technologies in a precursor for a mission being planned to launch the EUSO telescope and install it on the International Space Station.
The balloon is made from polyethylene film, similar in appearance and thickness to the type used for sandwich bags, but stronger and more durable.
The SPB was designed to float at a constant density altitude despite the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle.
The current record for a NASA super pressure balloon flight was 54 days.
Wanaka Airport operations manager Ralph Fegan said Monday that NASA had committing to the site as one of its global launch bases for up to 10 years.
The agreement had paved the way for NASA to invest in a longer term base of operations and to create a dedicated balloon launch pad, Fegan said in a statement. Enditem