High Winds Force NASA’s ULDB Balloon to Land Again

By Keith Cowing
February 25, 2001
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11 March 2001 Update: Once again NASA’s ULDB has been forced to land – this time it was aloft for 24 hours. After a second launch on 10 March the balloon was forced to land near Carnarvon 1,200 miles west of its launch site near Alice Springs. The reason for the forced landing was unacceptable winds at high altitudes. Mission management had expected that the mission would be cut short because of the winds but decided to launch any way so as to gather data on the balloon’s operations for as long as they could keep it aloft.

25 February: A gigantic balloon designed to circle the Earth above all but 1% of our planet’s atmosphere developed a leak and returned to Earth on Saturday.

NASA’s Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) developed a leak six hours after take off at an altitude of around 66,000 feet. The ULDB was eventually returned to Earth in a controlled fashion such that its instruments appear to be undamaged. The cause of the leak is still unknown. The balloon landed 150 miles east of its Australian launch site early on Saturday.

This setback came after weeks of bad weather (daily journal) forced one delay after another in the balloon’s inaugural research flight.

NASA’s Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) Project has the goal of lofting an immense balloon designed to spend weeks circling the earth performing scientific research at an altitude on 35 kilometers (22 miles). The balloon is designed to float in a westerly direction staying within a region overlapping the Tropic of Capricorn. As the balloon ascends to its cruising altitude the gases in its main pressure chamber expand such that the balloon eventually measures 128 meters (420 feet) across and 79 meters (259 feet) high.

According to NASA: “The objective of the Ultra Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) Project is to develop balloon systems capable of supporting scientific observations above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere for durations approaching 100 days. The TIGER (Trans-Ion Galactic Element Recorder) demonstration flight will occur in the year 2001.

The design goal of the project is to support a scientific payload of 2,200 pounds and to be able to deliver 800 watts of continuous power to the scientific instrument based on a 12 hour day and night. Scientists performing research will be able to command their instrument and receive science data at their home institution via the Internet .”

No date for a reflight has been announced.

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