A large white object falling down may seem like the sky is falling in the north of the county, but what hit the area northwest of Christmas Valley on Sunday, Jan. 20, was actually a NASA contracted launch of a weather balloon, testing various components to use in future space applications.
“The balloon is really kind of an anomaly,” said local Bruce Webbon, campaign manager for the launch, who also works with NASA’s Ames Research Center. “The balloon company came out of nowhere.”
NASA’s Flight Opportunity Program finds developers who look to engineer the technology use in various outer space measures. While generally ascribing to using rocket propelled systems and other means to reach the high altitude where the tests could generate the most similar results, Webbon said that the weather balloons, made by Near Space Corporation, have provided an interesting, cost effective alternative. “It’s kind of fun,” he said.
According to him, the FOP has two different purposes. “The primary focus of the program is to develop space applications,” he said, referring to interplanetary and orbital travel. “Also, we want to help the industry develop forward.”
In doing so, NASA sends out calls for projects submissions that go through a rigorous vetting process. In this way, they have various experiments that cover a lot of ground, though not literally.
The specific payload that the weather balloon carried into North Lake dealt with determining the structural integrity of a possible reusable craft, repeatedly entering from space, checked by a monitoring system developed by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Additionally, it determined the ability to send and receive wireless transmissions over distance and metal in a simulated space environment.