NASA launches a surveillance balloon to tour the globe

NASA successfully launched a super pressure balloon from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, today, on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight!

The purpose of the flight is to test and validate the super pressure balloon technology with the goal of long-duration flight (100+ days) at mid-latitudes. In addition, the gondola is carrying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) gamma-ray telescope as a mission of opportunity.

Two hours and 8 minutes after lift-off, the 532,000-cubic-meter (18.8-million-cubic-foot) balloon reached its operational float altitude of 33.5 kilometers (110,000 feet) flying a trajectory taking it initially westward through southern Australia before entering into the eastward flowing winter stratospheric cyclone.

NASA estimates the balloon will circumnavigate the globe about the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

Prior to take-off, a launch window was determined that would avoid disruption to scheduled aircraft operations. Airways gave clearance for lift-off at 11.21am from its Christchurch-based radar centre, and the balloon lifted off the ground at 11.47am.

The balloon is carrying an automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) radar transponder, which is the same technology used by larger commercial passenger aircraft.

At 13,500 feet, it entered controlled airspace. However it stays separated from other air traffic.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

In uncontrolled airspace UAVs can only be flown below 400 feet above ground level, and not within 4km of any aerodrome, unless approval has been granted from the aerodrome operator

To fly in controlled airspace, UAV operators are required to request access from air traffic control. UAVs are becoming ever more accessible, but present a serious risk if they’re not used safely and in accordance with the civil aviation rules,

Like all aviation operators, UAV operators need to make sure they understand civil aviation requirements before they take to the sky. Which is not the case with most drone owners. – and this is particularly important during events such as the NASA balloon launch where aviation safety is paramount to a successful launch.

It might be tempting to use your UAV to take a closer look at this exciting event – but please consider safety and keep drones away at this time.


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