The Flights of Others

I was hoping to be able to offer good news on the rotor situation at this point, but no dice.  The engineers at SSL have done heroic work with it, and we’ll get it back tomorrow.  It’s not clear that will be soon enough to keep us from slipping to last in the flight queue, though–we have to check it once it gets back.

Flying last would likely mean poorer science.  The “turnaround” winds that allow balloons to hang in place over New Mexico only last a couple of weeks.  We’d like to get a 36-hour flight to be able to observe the Crab Nebula twice, but flying after turnaround, we’d be fortunate to get 24 hours before the balloon flew towards major metropolitan airspaces and had to be cut down.  The other major disadvantage to flying last is sticking around here for longer, and your correspondent is starting to miss the comforts of home rather severely.

That said, on Tuesday we got to see our first balloon launch!  The payload flying was CREST, which just wanted to have a short engineering flight and hence didn’t need turnaround winds.  We got up at six am, checked the webcam, and went out to take a look.

CSBF checks the low-level wind conditions by releasing these little red balloons, known as "pie balls."

CSBF checks the low-level wind conditions by releasing these little red balloons, known as pibals ("pilot balloons").

Plastic is placed on the ground to protect the balloon as it is filled.

Plastic is placed on the ground to protect the balloon as it is filled.

CREST on "Big Bill," the launch vehicle.

CREST on "Big Bill," the launch vehicle.

The Taiwanese PIs were in town and excited to watch the launch with us.

The Taiwanese PIs were in town and excited to watch the launch with us.

Beginning to fill the balloon with helium.

Beginning to fill the balloon with helium. Once the fill starts, there's no turning back!

DSCF5693

DSCF5698

The balloon is released and allowed to come to vertical.

The balloon is released and allowed to come to vertical.

DSCF5710

The gondola and parachute are raised in anticipation of the balloon release.

The gondola and parachute are raised in anticipation of the balloon release.

DSCF5723

Unwrapping the rest of the balloon.  Only the top third of the balloon is filled on the ground--since the balloon will be in the near vacuum of space, there needs to be room to expand!

Unwrapping the rest of the balloon. Only the top third of the balloon is filled on the ground--since the balloon will be in the near vacuum of space, there needs to be room to expand!

Nearly filled.

Nearly filled.

Tying off the fill tubes.

Tying off the fill tubes. The whole fill process takes about half an hour.

DSCF5746

The balloon is released!  Downrange, Big Bill is moving into position to release the gondola smoothly once the balloon is vertical.

The balloon is released! Downrange, Big Bill is moving into position to release the gondola smoothly once the balloon is vertical.

And it's away!

And it's away!

Floating off into the sunrise.

Floating off into the sunrise.

Amazingly, it's possible to see the balloon at float altitudes, 25 miles up!  It floated back over us later in the day.

Amazingly, it's possible to see the balloon at float altitudes, 25 miles up! It floated back over us later in the day. (See if you can spot it.)

It was an incredibly cool experience watching the launch!  CREST had a successful eight hour flight and returned quite near Ft. Sumner.  Wednesday they had their truck packed to head back home!  Hopefully that’s an auspicious sign for the rest of us…

About these ads

Comments are closed.