National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched its first football-stadium-sized, super pressure balloon filled with helium from the Wanaka airport in New Zealand on Tuesday. The balloon is designed in a way which shall detect cosmic rays from beyond our galaxy as they penetrate the Earth's atmosphere.
The balloon left the ground at 10:50 am beating previous seven attempts that failed because of unfavorable winds
"Following our 2015 and 2016 New Zealand missions, we've learned key lessons on the balloon design that have gone into perfecting the technology for this year's flight," said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA's Balloon Programme Office chief.
The mission is stated to run for 100 or more days floating at 33.5 km in the southern hemisphere's mid-latitude band.
The 18.8-million-cubic-foot (532,000-cubic-meter) Super Pressure Balloon lifted off from NASA's new launch pad adjacent to Wanaka Airport carrying a suspended payload of 2,495 kilogrammes. While validating the super pressure balloon technology is the main flight objective, the International Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) payload is flying as a mission of opportunity.
The ultra high-energy particles in the galaxy enter the atmosphere, get combined with the nitrogen molecules in the air and create a UV fluorescence light.
EUSO-SPB's objective is to detect ultra-high energy cosmic rays that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. It will broad swathe of the Earth's atmosphere to detect the UV fluorescence from these deep space cosmic rays coming in from above.
"EUSO-SPB is now searching for the most energetic cosmic particles ever observed, the origin of these particles is a great mystery that our pioneering mission will help to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast- spinning pulsars? Or somewhere else?" said Angela V Olinto, professor at the University of Chicago.
"The international science team is very excited to see our cosmic ray fluorescence detector lifted to suborbital space by this remarkable balloon and departing on this global journey," said Lawrence Wiencke, professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the US.
"This balloon will give us a great view, and we are hoping for a record flight," Wiencke said.
Not only it has proved to be a unique discovery by also an invention at a relatively low cost. NASA's heavy-lift balloons have been critical launch vehicles for testing and validating new technologies and science instruments to assure mission success for costlier, higher-risk follow-on spaceflight missions, said Fairbrother.
Once it is confirmed, the ultimate goal of the EUSO project is to fly from an even higher altitude on the International Space Station to observe a greater atmospheric area for detecting high-energy cosmic rays.
The balloon shall be visible to the naked eyes once it starts travelling in the Earth's atmosphere. It may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, to those who live in the southern hemisphere's mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa, NASA said.
Common people can track the progress of the flight, it's reatime location on the NASA website.