NASA has successfully completed the flight test of its super pressure balloon with the SuperBIT telescope on board, after some 39 days and 14 hours of round-the-world flight over the Southern Ocean.
The mission began on April 16 from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, which is the launch site for NASA’s long-duration balloon program.
The balloon was flown with the payload of the Super Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT), which has taken research images of distant galaxies in the near-to-visible ultraviolet light spectrum.
“This flight was, without exception, our best to date with the balloon nominally flying in the stratosphere and maintaining a stable hover altitude,” Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA’s Balloon Program Office at NASA, said in a statement. Agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. “Achieving long-duration balloon flight in both day and night conditions is an important goal for our program and the scientific community, and this flight has significantly moved the needle in the validation and qualification of balloon technology.”
Having identified a safe landing area over southern Argentina, balloon operators at NASA’s Columbia Balloon Science Facility sent flight termination commands at 12:37 UTC on May 25.
The 532,000 cubic meter balloon then separated from the payload, quickly deflated and the payload floated safely to the ground on a parachute landing in an unpopulated area 122 kilometers northeast of Gobernador Gregores, Argentina. NASA coordinated with Argentine officials before finalizing the balloon mission; Payload and balloon recovery is in progress.
During its nearly 40-day voyage, the balloon completed a record five full orbits over the southern hemisphere mid-latitudes while maintaining a hover altitude of around 108,000 feet.
Over the next few days, the forecast flight path would have taken the balloon further south with little exposure to sunlight, creating some risk in maintaining power to the balloon’s systems, which are charged via solar panels. The ground crossing created an opportunity to conclude the flight safely and recover the balloon and payload.