NASA successfully completed the scientific mission of the SuperBIT balloon

NASA successfully completed the scientific mission of the SuperBIT balloon
NASA successfully completed the scientific mission of the SuperBIT balloon

NASA successfully completed a flight test of its super-pressure balloon carrying the Super-Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT) science mission on Thursday, after some 39 days and 14 hours of flight time. The mission began on April 15 from Wānaka Airport, New Zealand, which is the launch site for NASA’s long-duration balloon program.

This flight was, without exception, our best to date with the balloon flying in the stratosphere. and maintaining a stable hover altitude,” said Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA’s Balloon Program Office at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. “Achieving a 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 in Palestine, Texas sent flight termination commands Thursday, then parted ways with the payload that it 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 ending the balloon mission; Payload and balloon recovery is in progress.

During its nearly 40-day journey, the balloon completed a record five complete orbits over the mid-latitudes of the southern hemisphere, maintaining a float 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.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team for making a safe and successful flight, and the science results from SuperBIT have been incredible,” Fairbrother said.

The next step for NASA’s Balloon Program is a science mission to launch from the Agency’s Columbia Balloon Science Facility in July. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites around the world. Peraton, which operates NASA’s Columbia Science Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services, and field operations for NASA’s science balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 science balloons during some 40 years of operations. NASA balloons are manufactured by Aerostar. NASA’s Balloon Science Program is funded by the Astrophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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