The second super pressure NASA balloon ended its flight and set a new duration record for scientific research balloons.
The mission began in May, started in Wanaka, New Zealand, and lasted almost 47 days.
The chief of the NASA Balloon Program said that their team would continue to try to keep the flight devices in the air for as long as possible.
The balloon landed in Camara, Peru, and NASA coordinated with local officials to retrieve the precious scientific payload.
NASA decided to end the mission after height variations registered during the Pacific crossing.
“Balloons are thermal vehicles, and some altitude variance isn’t uncommon during periods of extreme cooling and heating. Given the occasional periods of altitude variation we noted, and at times the magnitude we observed, we’re eager to retrieve the balloon and payload so that we can analyze the flight data and balloon,” explained the leader of the program, Debbie Fairbrother.
The aircraft was designed to fly at 110,000 feet altitudes during day time. At night, when temperatures dropped, the device would go down to 80,000 feet altitude.
Scientists believe that the variations may have been caused by a helium leak occurring during one cold storm at the beginning of its journey. In order to verify if this is true, the team would need to wait for the balloon to be recovered.
The researchers note that this was a test flight, and they will try to complete a 100 days balloon trip.
The device has a capacity of 18.8 million cubic feet. It was equipped with a Compton Spectrometer and Imager, which helped the science team from the University of California to detect the first gamma ray burst. This phenomenon is associated with supernovas and the formation of black holes.
This year, NASA managed to operate simultaneous airborne scientific trips in the northern and the southern hemispheres. Both balloons carried space telescopes and were launched with the help of Orbital ATK.
The first attempt to fly a super pressure balloon in the mid-latitude was in 2015, and at that time the device succeeded to stay in the air for 32 days. The previous distance record for balloon flight was set in 2013 by NASA’s Super-TIGER, which flew over Antarctica for 55 days.
The NASA Balloon Program initiates up to 15 flights each year. The operations in Texas are conducted by Orbital ATK. The company provides planning, engineering designs, and field operations.
In its 35 years of activity, NASA team launched almost 1,700 scientific balloons.
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