NASA Scientific Balloons To Return To Flight

WASHINGTON -- NASA's scientific balloon program is resuming flights this month after an extensive evaluation of its safety processes following a mishap during an April launch attempt from Australia. NASA's high-altitude balloons fly instruments for scientific and technological investigations that contribute to our understanding of Earth, the solar system, and the universe.

In October, a NASA mishap review board listed 25 causes that
contributed to the accident, including insufficient risk analysis,
contingency planning, personnel training, government oversight and
public safety accommodations. More information on the investigation
is available at:


"NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops Flight Facility, and
contractor balloon team have done an outstanding job over the past
eight months to develop and implement plans to return the balloons to
flight," said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division in the
Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We
look forward to once again conducting groundbreaking science with
these balloon systems."

To prepare for the resumption of flights, NASA developed a corrective
action plan to address the recommendations from the mishap review. To
return to flight, NASA has:
- Developed a more stringent launch safety area in which the balloon
launch vehicle can maneuver in order to protect the safety of the
- Revised the safety procedures used to conduct balloon launches;
- Instituted NASA independent ground and flight safety roles to ensure
that balloon launches are conducted safely;
- Redesigned the launch head mechanism that failed to work properly
during the Australia aborted launch;
- Developed plans to better respond to mishaps and close calls with
respect to balloon launch operations.

NASA has approved flights that are scheduled throughout this month
over Antarctica. During the Antarctica flights, NASA will use a
vehicle that was specifically designed to launch the balloons instead
of a commercially obtained mobile crane, which was used during the
mishap in Australia. The launch vehicle is built to handle the large,
long-duration balloon (LDB) payloads on the compacted snow launch
surface. The LDB program in Antarctica is a partnership between NASA
and the National Science Foundation, and is carried out through the
U.S. Antarctic Program -- a continuous national research presence on
the continent since 1956 that is managed by NSF.

NASA's scientific balloons are composed of a lightweight polyethylene
film, similar to sandwich wrap. Flying to altitudes of nearly 25
miles, many of the balloons inflate to almost the size of a football
stadium and carry payloads weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages NASA's scientific
balloon program for the Science Mission Directorate. Under NASA
safety supervision, launch operations are conducted by the Columbia
Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, which is managed by
the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

For more information on NASA's scientific balloon program, visit:


Source: NASA

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