NASA-NSF Scientific Balloon Launches From Antarctica
NASA and the National Science Foundation launched a scientific balloon on Monday, Dec. 20, to study the effects of cosmic rays on Earth. It was the first of five scientific balloons scheduled to launch from Antarctica in December. The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM VI) experiment was designed and built at the University of Maryland. CREAM VI is investigating high-energy cosmic-ray particles that originated from distant supernovae explosions in the Milky Way and reached Earth. Currently, CREAM VI is floating at 126,000 feet above Antarctica with nominal science operations. Two smaller, hand-launched space science payloads have already been launched, flown, and successfully flight terminated.

They carried the Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL) experiment designed and constructed at Dartmouth College. BARREL will provide answers on how and where Earth's Van Allen radiation belts, which produce the polar aurora, periodically interact with Earth's upper atmosphere. These test flights will help scientists prepare for similar flight experiments scheduled for launch in 2013 and 2014. Next in line will be an experiment from the University of Pennsylvania called the Balloon Borne Aperture Submillimeter Telescope (BLAST). This experiment will investigate how magnetic fields impede star formation in our galaxy.

BLAST’s instrumentation and telescope will collect data to make the first high-resolution images of magnetically polarized dust in a number of nearby star forming regions. A super-pressure balloon test flight also will be conducted. The 14-million-cubic-foot NASA balloon is the largest single-cell, fully-sealed, super-pressure structure ever flown. It is twice the size of a similar balloon flown over Antarctica for 54 days from December 2008 to February 2009. NASA’s goal is to eventually develop a 26-million cubic-foot super-pressure balloon, nearly the size of a football stadium. NASA scientific balloons are composed of a lightweight polyethylene film, similar to sandwich wrap. Flying to altitudes of nearly 25 miles, the balloons carry payloads weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

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