Giant balloon has circumnavigated Antarctica three times
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Somewhere out in deep space, an as-yet unknown source is producing high-energy cosmic rays that bombard the Earth on a regular basis. After gathering data from a record-setting unmanned balloon flight over Antarctica, NASA scientists hope to better understand where these energetic atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high energies.
The record-breaking balloon carried an instrument with a name that’s straight out of science fiction comic book, the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder. So far, the balloon has been aloft for 46 days. Taking advantage of the unbroken circumpolar winds, the balloon is on its third orbit around the South Pole.
“This is an outstanding achievement for NASA’s Astrophysics balloon team,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Keeping these huge balloons aloft for such long periods lets us do forefront science that would be difficult to do otherwise.”
The giant 39-million cubic foot balloon launched Dec. 8 from near McMurdo Station, carrying a payload about the size of a large SUV. Super-TIGER, as it’s been dubbed,
broke the previous record of 41 days and 22 hours, previously set in 2005.
“It has taken eight years, but we are so excited about breaking the long duration balloon record. In addition, it looks like the Super-Tiger flight, which is still collecting science data, will raise the bar by a week or two,” said Debora Fairbrother, chief of the Scientific Balloon Program Office at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The long duration balloon site at Willy Field, McMurdo Station, takes advantage of the stratospheric anti-cyclonic wind pattern circulating from east to west around the South Pole. The stratospheric wind circulation combined with the sparsely populated continent of Antarctica allows for long duration balloon flights at altitudes above 100,000 feet.