NASA’s BARREL Mission Launches 20 Balloons

Some of the BARREL balloon launches took place at the South African National Antarctic Expedition Research base, called SANAE IV, the others at Halley Research Station. This balloon is taking flight at SANAE IV. Credit: NASA --- In Antarctica in January, 2013 – the summer at the South Pole – scientists launched 20 balloons up into the air to study an enduring mystery of space weather: when the giant radiation belts surrounding Earth lose material, where do the extra particles actually go? The mission is called BARREL (Balloon Array for Radiation belt Relativistic Electron Losses) and it is led by physicist Robyn Millan of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Millan provided photographs from the team’s time in Antarctica. The team launched a balloon every day or two into the circumpolar winds that circulate around the pole. Each balloon floated for anywhere from 3 to 40 days, measuring X-rays produced by fast-moving electrons high up in the atmosphere. BARREL works hand in hand with another NASA mission called the Van Allen Probes, which travels through the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Earth. The belts wax and wane over time in response to incoming energy and material from the sun, sometimes intensifying the radiation through which satellites must travel. Scientists wish to understand this process better, and even provide forecasts of this space weather, in order to protect our spacecraft. As the Van Allen Probes were observing what was happening in the belts, BARREL tracked electrons that precipitated out of the belts and hurtled down Earth’s magnetic field lines toward the poles. By comparing data, scientists will be able to track how what’s happening in the belts correlates to the loss of particles – information that can help us understand this mysterious, dynamic region that can impact spacecraft. Having launched balloons in early 2013, the team is back at home building the next set of payloads. They will launch 20 more balloons in 2014. NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram