I’d like to welcome you back to the ballooning extraordinaire blog. As is normally the case, the weather in Ft. Sumner has been gracious enough for us to conduct our first successful flight of the campaign. Our first flight was conducted by the BOBCAT team. You can see in the photo (below) the payload gondola and our Mobile Launch Vehicle beautifully backlit by the New Mexican sunrise. The gondola is the structure that carries all the stuff that the science team needs to make their experiment work. The BOBCAT mission is a testbed demonstration for a cool, new type of cryogenic liquid containment system for balloon-borne telescopes. A lot of people might not know that cryogenic liquids are gases that have been cooled and compressed for so long that they actually turn into a liquid.
Our balloons at NASA use helium as a gas to rise from the ground, just like your run of the mill party balloons from the store, and they end up flying pretty good. But sometimes the science instruments we fly also use helium and other gases to protect their telescopes and detectors from moisture, particles in the air, and other stuff like that. Here’s where the “cool” part comes in. Sometimes the instruments need to be kept really, really cold. To do that, they use cryogenic helium and nitrogen liquids. At standard pressure, like here on the ground, liquid helium is 4 Kelvin. In Celsius, that’s -269 degrees. That’s pretty darn cold. The equipment to keep gases like helium that cold are usually pretty bulky and heavy. Dr. Alan Kogut, from the Goddard Space Flight Center, has figured out a way to make that equipment a lot lighter, which means that the instruments will be able to fly longer and higher then they would have.
In total, BOBCAT flew a total 4.5 hours at an altitude of over 125,000 feet. BOBCAT gracefully flew from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico all the way to just outside Sanders, Arizona. We couldn’t have asked for a better flight. Thanks again for checking out this update, and look for another real soon!