By Peter Griffin 19/04/2016

The NASA scientists gathered in Wanaka had to abandon their effort to launch a hot air balloon this morning, the latest of many attempts thwarted by the weather.

The media let out another exasperated sigh:

balloon headlines

So what is this balloon for, exactly?

As NASA explains here:

Some science is best done or can only be done at mid-latitudes. The potential of flying for much longer periods of time offer the scientists much greater data acquisition time or more bang for the buck. This is the background for the need for the Super Pressure Balloon development. The Super Pressure Balloon development is more than just a design process. It has to interrelate the design, materials, manufacturing, flight operations, support systems, safety, and flight control toward a successful approach. A new tool for Science!

Source: NASA
Source: NASA

So Wanaka turns out to be an ideal mid latitude location from which to launch a balloon. Here’s what they plan to do with the balloon, according to Stuff:

The [University of California, Berkeley’s] payload will investigate longstanding mysteries of the universe, such as the births and deaths of stars, positrons, pulsars and black holes, and is a “mission of opportunity” following an unsuccessful flight in 2014 from Antarctica, according to a NASA website report.

The balloon launch has other important objectives, including breaking the 54-day flight duration record set over the Antarctic in 2009 and hopefully staying airborne for up to 100 days.

Swinging under the balloon will be COSI, UC Berkeley’s Compton Spectrometer and Imager. According to the team using it, this complex piece of equipment:

measures the position and deposited energies of a sequence of Compton scatters from a gamma-ray to determine the path through an active detector. By determining the relative order of scatters in addition to the Compton scatter angle and position of the first interaction, one can constrain the origin of the photon to an annulus on the sky, called the event circle.

If more than one photon comes from the same sky position, then their respective events circles will overlap and reveal the location of the source. Iterative deconvolution techniques are used to develop an image.

More from the COSI team, including running launch commentary here.

Over 1,000kg of equipment and scientific instruments will be loaded beneath the balloon, which has a capacity of 532,000 cubic metres. The last balloon to launch in Wanaka circled the Earth many times during its 33 day journey, before being brought down in Australia because it sprung a leak.

Source: NASA
Source: NASA
Source: NASA
Source: NASA