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Fly High! NASA Successfully Launches Super Pressure Balloon From New Zealand

First Posted: Apr 26, 2017 04:45 AM EDT

NASA has successfully launched its Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) from Wanaka in New Zealand on Tuesday. The football stadium-sized SPB, which finally took off after eight failed attempts, carries the University of Chicago's Extreme Universe Space Observatory.

The goal of the flight is to explore and validate the SPB technology on a long-duration flight over 100 days at mid-latitudes. "Following our 2015 and 2016 New Zealand missions, we have learned key lessons on the balloon design that have gone into perfecting the technology for this year's flight," said NASA's Balloon Program Office Debbie Fairbrother, according to Times of India. "I am very proud of the team that delivered us to this point and I am hopeful that third time's the charm for realizing 100 days of flight.”

The Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) has been designed to detect high-energy cosmic rays, which originate from beyond the Milky Way, as they penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. As they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the high-energy cosmic ray particles interact with the nitrogen molecules in the air and create a UV fluorescence light.

According to Angela V. Olinto, professor at the University of Chicago, the origin of high-energy cosmic rays is a great mystery that the EUSO-SPB will help to solve. The mission will help to investigate if the particles come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies, fast-spinning tiny pulsars or elsewhere in the universe.

The SPB, measuring 18.8 million cubic feet, is scheduled to gain an operational float height of 110,000 feet. NASA has indicated that SPB will circumnavigate the planet about the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere -- once in one to three weeks, based on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

Incidentally, the U.S. space agency has collaborated with Wanaka Airport team, New Zealand’s air navigation service provider Airways, Queenstown Lakes District Council and Queenstown Airport Corporation for the project.

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