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Snagging a high fly ball

Perseids Live! Balloon Flight Planned

Aug. 6, 1999: At the height of the baseball season, NASA is going to stretch deep into the outfield to catch bits of a falling star. But it'll be a night game, in the wee hours of Aug. 12 or 13 (next Thursday or Friday) when the Perseids meteor stream is high in the sky.

The outfield is big, but the mitt and the fly balls are small, so NASA is counting on quantity and a little luck to snare one or two. Web viewers at home will get a chance to see the more impressive fireballs, glowing as if they were hot line-drives.

The Perseids Live! balloon flight to about 33.5 km (110,000 ft) altitude will be NASA/Marshall's third mission to capture materials of cosmic origin before they are incinerated by entry into Earth's atmosphere or contact with the ground if they survive entry.

NASA/Marshall's first two flights were in November 1998 during the Leonids meteor shower and April 1999 during a meteor minimum to provide a proper comparison. On Perseids Live!, NASA/Marshall will continue experimenting with several types of capture media to see how they fare at high altitude, and with new equipment for tracking and imagery.

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"We'll be carrying a new 12-channel GPS receiver and an astronomical-type CCD camera," said Ed Myszka, an amateur radio operator who has conducted a number of balloon launches. Myszka works for CSC at NASA/Marshall's Science and Technology Directorate.

GPS - the Global Positioning System - uses timing signals from satellites in high Earth orbit to calculate the receiver's position. The 12-channel system should measure the Perseids Live! balloon's horizontal location to within 100 meters (328 feet) and its altitude to within 152 meters (500 ft).

"That's within the size of a football field," Myszka said. "That's fairly good accuracy."

The payload will also include a new charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, an electronic retina similar in some basic respects to the Wide Field Camera aboard the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Image above is one frame of meteor recorded from the balloon (approx 3:32 a.m. CST Nov 17, 1998) Click for 131KB animated gif

In the Southeast, tune to channel 58 on a cable-ready TV, connected to an antenna

Credit NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

Requires Realvideo player (version 5). Click to download the RealVideo Player (from RealNetworks, Inc.

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balloon inflation 2 a.m. CST 17 Nov"This one was designed for use at the eyepiece by amateur astronomers," Myszka said. "We added a lens to give a wide-angle view."

The camera is more sensitive to light than the camera carried on the two previous missions, and has about double the resolution. Web viewers should have a better view of background stars and bolides - meteors' fiery trails - than on the two earlier missions.

The radio downlink, power supply, and other equipment are taken from the earlier missions. The transmitter also will be the same and will broadcast on channel 58 for cable-ready TV using an external antenna. This will be a line-of-sight signal that can only be received in the Southeast.

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The payload itself will use a larger frame, 20x20x72 cm (8x8x28 in). That in turn will allow more room for capture devices. Several different materials, which will be selected presently, will be tested for their ability to withstand the trip to the edge of space (at about 18 km/hr [1,000 ft/minute]) and back, and a total duration of two hours.

The area-time product - 480 square centimeters for 2 hours - is comparable to that of a 1965 sounding rocket flight [a brief exposure with a larger sample area] which failed to return any detectable Leonid meteoroids.

Myszka said that the balloon package probably will not travel as far as the two previous balloons did.

"It will probably return to Earth closer to us," he said, "because the winds aloft have shifted as compared to the November 1998 and April 1999 launches." He anticipates landing will occur within 50 km (about 30 mi) of Redstone Arsenal where NASA/Marshall is located.

Web Links

NASA/Ames Leonids MAC Workshop - April 12 - 15, 1999

Leonids' Particle Analyses from Stratospheric Balloon Collection on Xerogel Surfaces - conference abstract

Leonids Live! -site of the live webcast of the 1998 Leonids

Related Stories:

Leonid Sample Return Update -- Apr. 1, 1999. Scientists will describe initial results from a program to catch meteoroids in flight at the NASA/Ames Leonids Workshop April 12-15, 1999.

The Ghost of Fireballs Past -- Dec. 22, 1998. RADAR echoes from Leonid and Geminid meteors.

Bunches & Bunches of Geminids -- Dec. 15, 1998. The Geminids continued to intensify in 1998

The 1998 Leonids: A bust or a blast? -- Nov. 27, 1998. New images of Leonid fireballs and their smokey remnants.

Leonids Sample Return payload recovered! -- Nov. 23, 1998. Scientists are scanning the "comet catcher" for signs of Leonid meteoroids.

Early birds catch the Leonids -- Nov. 19, 1998. The peak of the Leonid meteor shower happened more than 14 hours earlier than experts had predicted.

A high-altitude look at the Leonids -- Nov. 18, 1998. NASA science balloon catches video of 8 fireballs.

The Leonid Sample Return Mission -- Nov. 16, 1998. NASA scientists hope to capture a Leonid meteoroid and return it to Earth.

Great Expectations: the 1998 Leonid meteor shower -- Nov. 10, 1998. The basics of what the Leonids are and what might happen on November 17.


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For more information, please contact:
Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: M. Frank Rose