News State QLD News NASA to retrieve super balloon from outback

NASA to retrieve super balloon from outback

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NASA is hoping to recover as much as it can of a massive scientific balloon that came down in remote south-west Queensland.

The super pressure balloon was brought down last week near a cattle station at Thargomindah, more than 700 kilometres south of Longreach, when it developed a leak.

Workers from a cattle station nearby found the balloon.

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The balloon is the size of a football stadium when fully inflated, which started a mission from New Zealand last month.

NASA spokeswoman Debbie Fairbrother said they would look to recover almost four tonnes of material.

Some members of a six-person NASA recovery team will arrive in Brisbane today to collect trucks and drive them to Adelaide, where a larger team will then go to the recovery location.

She said NASA had rented camper vans and supplies to get to the remote area and that the team was experienced in recovery operations.

“They are working to get the heavy truck that we need to carry out the payload, and the balloon and the parachute,” she said.

“One of the trucks will have a crane on it because we will need that to lift the items on the truck.

“They will be photographing it, and ultimately we will be shipping everything back to the United States for additional investigation.”

The payload of the NASA scientific balloon was described the being the size of a cold room. Photo: Marianne McCarthy

Ms Fairbrother said the cause of the leak had not yet been established, but it would be investigated at the site.

The payload weighs almost 1,600 kilograms, and the balloon more than 2,200 kilograms, but NASA said it would attempt to recover all of it.

“We will do whatever we need to find as much of the material as we can,” she said.

“We know that the majority of the material is located in one particular location.”

Ms Fairbrother said the remote location was an ideal area for the balloon to come down, because public safety was critical.

“The outback was the optimum place for us to terminate,” she said.

It was estimated it would take up to a week to recover the balloon, with the team then to return to Adelaide and the balloon and payload to be shipped back to the United States.

Ms Fairbrother said the mission was an enormous success, despite the leak.

“The balloon itself will be a platform for science, that will take science instruments to the edge of space, the near space,” she said.

“It had 32 days aloft, operating in an environment where we had never operated a structure this large before, and it performed flawlessly until the last day.

“We learned so much out of this mission and look forward to getting into the recovery locations, which are about 18 miles apart – the balloon and the payload are separate – and then investigating and getting back in the air.”

She said the balloon was worth about $US1.2 million and it was always planned for it to be destroyed at the end of the mission.


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