Pumpkin balloon breaks endurance record by staying aloft for more than 42 days

February 9th, 2009 - 12:28 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 9 (ANI): In a test flight, a pumpkin-shaped balloon, developed by NASA, has stayed afloat for more than 42 days, thus breaking the duration record for balloons today.

According to a report in Nature News, the test balloon, which is currently coasting in stratospheric breezes around Antarctica, has surpassed a record set in 2005, when a balloon carried a cosmic-ray experiment aloft for almost 42 days.

Its been a superb flight, said David Pierce, chief of NASAs balloon programme at Goddard Space Flight Centers Wallops facility in Virginia. Were proving this is a viable platform, he added.

The test balloon was launched from McMurdo Station on 28 December into the bright clear cold above a perfect launch pad: the flat expanse of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The balloon is carrying a basic test instrumentation package of cameras, radios and temperature and pressure gauges.

It also has test sensors for the space physics programme known as BARREL (Balloon Array for RBSP Relativistic Electron Losses), but is not undertaking any real experiments.

The balloon wont reach the 100-day goal on this flight, because Pierce wants to bring it down over the continent so that staff can recover it during the next summer season.

The polar vortex winds that push the balloon around in circles have started to break up, and the balloon will eventually veer off course. And so, probably by the end of the month, engineers will bring the balloon down by remotely tearing a hole in it and deploying a parachute.

Balloons have long been a cheap way for scientists to get instruments above 99 percent of the atmosphere that confounds most experiments: nearly to the edge of space, but without the expense of rockets and the long development lead times of satellites.

Most conventional balloons, shaped like those that carry people, are open to the atmosphere, and fluctuate in altitude like a sine wave as day turns to night. That has restricted long flights of conventional balloons to the constant daylight of polar summers.

But, the pumpkin-shaped balloon withstands pressure differences caused by daily temperature swings with ribs or tendons that stop it from expanding.

Super-pressure balloons like these offer not just the extra data gathered with more time aloft, but greater stability and, in turn, the potential to cover other regions of Earth, as they can fly around the Earth at mid-latitudes at any time of year. (ANI)

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