Notes from the Field

This Isn’t My First Rodeo

September 2nd, 2021 by Andy Hynous, NASA Balloon Program Office

So, I realize that it’s been awhile, and that in my last blog post (from waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in January of 2020) I said that we’d be doing a launch from New Zealand but that didn’t quite work out nearly as well as we all hoped…  I wonder what happened…

Anywho, your ever-faithful intrepid engineer is back in the saddle again here in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, for our fall campaign attempt. We did do a spring Fort Sumner campaign earlier in the year, but that is pretty rare for the Balloon Program. Normally, during that time of year, we are attempting to conduct launches from either Wanaka, New Zealand, or the Swedish Space Corporation Esrange facility outside Kiruna, Sweden. Next year in March through June the blogs might be a little more exotic. Why didn’t I put up any blog posts back in the spring?  Well, I was busy … and stuff. We had a lot to do to make both the spring and fall campaigns for this year happen. Now, where was I?

What’s been happening in Fort Sumner, you ask? Good question! We’ve been deployed here to the Land of Enchantment since early August. We currently have nine manifested missions slated for the fall campaign. We’re attempting to launch some science piggyback missions on a couple of Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility test flight missions. We also have a full slate of dedicated science missions we want to launch. AND we have an independent student mission. I’ll be sure to give more info on that one in a later post.

So far, the team has conducted one hand-launch for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) science mission WHATSUP. Now, I’ve talked about hand launches in previous blog posts (“More Fun Than a BARREL of Electrons” primarily), but what makes this mission special is that the Principal Investigator, Adrian Tang, is developing a system to go to other planets and measure water content in their atmospheres. That’ll help us understand the composition of gases that make up the “air” on said planets in our solar system. You can see some shots of the WHATSUP mission in the above pictures. The image below is from the launch last week.

Today, we just launched another NASA JPL mission. The JPL-SLS. The balloon, as I’m writing, is at 28,680 feet and climbing. She’s currently climbing at a little less than 1000 feet per minute.  You can check out the current conditions (more likely the final trajectory) here. The JPL-SLS mission is an upper atmosphere science mission for NASA that is looking at and measuring the composition of our own atmosphere. We’ve flown JPL-SLS many times in the past, so they’re able to use their data to measure trends and see how our atmosphere has changed over time.

The opening video is from our launch attempt today (August 28, 2021). That is the JPL-SLS mission being released from the launch spool and the mobile launch vehicle. The last photo for today was taken of the JPL-SLS mission from the flight line.  I hope you enjoy!  I’ll try to do better to keep this updated with more observations from the field. Check back real soon!

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