Science and Exploration

NASA BETTII Balloon Mission Ends in Failure

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
June 11, 2017
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NASA BETTII Balloon Mission Ends in Failure

The Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry (BETTII) payload, an astronomy experiment, launched from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Palestine, Texas, Thursday, June 8, flying through the evening.
At the conclusion of the mission Friday, June 9, NASA conducted an analysis of atmospheric conditions and a survey of the operational area as part of a safety analysis in preparation for flight termination. Once the balloon reached a safe flight termination area, characterized by sparse population but still relatively accessible via roads, flight controllers at CSBF sent flight termination commands to separate the parachute/payload from the balloon.

After the commands were sent, the connection between the payload gondola and parachute failed. The payload separated from the parachute and free fell to the ground in a remote, wooded area northeast of Sterling City, Texas, resulting in the loss of the payload.

“It’s important to note that our safety analysis conducted before flight termination factors in a scenario like this one,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “While this was not the expected outcome, it was an outcome safely reached, due to the thorough analysis conducted prior to ending the flight. No injuries or property damage occurred during the termination phase of the mission.”

Crews have recovered the balloon and parachute; recovery of the payload is expected to occur over the next several days given the remote location of the site.

NASA has formed a team to investigate the cause of the incident. Two more flights are planned in this year’s Palestine, Texas, scientific balloon campaign, but on-hold pending a full engineering review of the payload/gondola connections to the parachute system. Each payload/gondola is unique; the upcoming flights use payload/gondola connections different than that used for the BETTII flight.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.