NASA's Balloon Program Prepares for Antarctic Campaign


NASA's Balloon Program Office based at Wallops Flight Facility is preparing for the annual winter Antarctic Campaign in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This year's campaign features three missions: Super-TIGER, EBEX, and BLAST-Pol.

The Long Duration Balloons (LDB) site was established at Willy Field, McMurdo Station in order to take advantage of the stratospheric anticyclone 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 flight at altitudes about 100,000 feet. One circumnavigation of the pole takes approximately 14 days. Depending on the experiment and the weather conditions, sometimes two or three circumnavigations are planned for a mission.

Super-TIGER, or Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder, will fly a new instrument for measuring the presence of certain elements in the universe. This information will be used to test a new model of radiation in space and how it affects atoms. This experiment uses techniques and results from its predecessor mission, TIGER. Super-TIGER will be flying on the largest balloon available.

The principal investigator of the Super-TIGER mission is Dr. Walter Binns of Washington University.

EBEX, or E&B Experiment, will take measurements of the cosmic microwave background in space, particularly its strength and direction. The cosmic microwave background is a type of radiation which fills the entire observable universe and is thought to be radiation remaining from the beginning of the universe. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background is a landmark test of the big bang model. EBEX is searching for signals from the expansion of the universe, which is thought to have taken place shortly after the big bang.

The principal investigator of the EBEX mission is Dr. Shaul Hanany of the University of Minnesota.

BLAST-Pol, Balloon-Borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope-Polarization, will investigate the magnetic fields in the universe and determine how they affect star formation by measuring the polarization of dust in starburst galaxies. BLAST-Pol will seek to determine the role magnetic fields play in this matter. The principal investigator of the BLAST-Pol mission is Dr. Mark Devlin of the University of Pennsylvania.

The three missions have completed initial assembly and testing at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. Final assembly occurs at the Long Duration Balloon Facility in Antartica. The earliest planned launch date for these three missions will be December 5, 2012. The launch window runs through early January. Wallops personnel supporting the launches of these three missions will be traveling to Antarctica in late November to prepare for launch.

The National Science Foundation manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistic support for all U.S. scientific operations in Antarctica.

To monitor the real time flight tracks of the balloons on the Internet, visit: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/antarctica/ice.htm

For more information about NASA's balloon program on the Internet, visit: http://www.wff.nasa.gov/balloons

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