Friday, August 26, 2016

BARREL Status Report #16 August 26, 2016

BARREL Status Report #16
August 26, 2016

Flight 4E was terminated yesterday (August 25) at 0938 UT because it was moving west towards lakes and mountains. A preliminary look at the data suggests that we observed microbursts during two different intervals, one close in time to the conjunction with RBSP. We need to look at it more closely to see how close we were. The payload was recovered later in the day. I am also excited to report that the ABOVE2 payload was also launched in time to catch the conjunction with RBSP on the orbit following the BARREL conjunction. They also observed precipitation but I don’t yet have many details. In any case, it is exciting that we were able to achieve our goal of coordinating with the ABOVE2 team to have two balloons up on separate continents and catch conjunctions on consecutive RBSP orbits!   

The next BARREL launch opportunity will be Saturday at 1730 UT. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

BARREL Status Report #15 August 24, 2016

BARREL Status Report #15
August 24, 2016

Flight 4E was launched from Esrange on Aug. 24 at 17:24 UT and reached float altitude at around 19:30 UT.  We lost GPS when the payload was at an altitude of 7.9 km. The symptoms are consistent with a disconnected GPS antenna. However, we do have GPS location and altitude from the SSC tracking system so this is a failure we can live with. It looks like geomagnetic activity has picked up with the arrival of a high speed stream from the sun. So, we’re hoping for a long flight to catch some of the activity! 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BARREL Status Report #14 August 23, 2016

BARREL Status Report #14
August 23, 2016

We had two great flights with BARREL Flights 4C and 4D. Both payloads survived the night and caught the Van Allen Probe conjunction early in the morning. Payload 4C also caught a conjunction with MMS yesterday though it doesn’t look like any precipitation was observed during the conjunction. We did see relativistic precipitation on both payloads when they were about 100 km apart so this will provide us with some information about the spatial distribution at smaller scales than we obtained during our Antarctic campaigns. Both flights were terminated on August 22 due to their location.  Flight 4D was terminated at 1321 UT and Flight 4C was terminated at 1533 UT. The payloads landed about 12 km apart and both were recovered earlier today. We were very pleased to get some longer flights and are now well into turnaround. The next launch opportunity is tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1700 local time in Sweden. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

Solar Flares and Why We Care

What’s a Solar Flare?
By Anna Voelker

Solar flares are massive bursts of energy that are characterized by brightening observed on the Sun. They are the largest explosions in our solar system and can emit energy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum!

This is an image of a flare occurring on the Sun, as viewed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). SDO is a spacecraft that looks at the sun in a variety of wavelengths and temperatures to help scientists see and study different solar events. For example, this wavelength,131 angstroms, allows the brightening associated with flares to be extremely visible. Follow the link below to view a NASA video of this flare seen in multiple wavelengths:   

Solar flares are classified in units of X-ray flux, which describes the amount of energy each flare emits over a given area. A C-class flare has a flux value with a magnitude of 10e-6 W/m^2, M-class 10e-5 W/m^2, and X-class 10e-4 W/m^2. For comparison, the energy released by a flare can be 10 million times greater than the energy released in a volcanic explosion!
(See for more details.)

Above is a graph that allows us to measure flare intensity using data from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) spacecraft. The vertical axis is X-ray flux and the horizontal axis is time (Universal Time or greenwich mean time, the time zone used as the official scientific time). Displayed in the top right-hand corner is the date, time, and X-ray flux value corresponding to wherever one moves their cursor along the graph. Shown here is the peak time and flux value of a flare that occurred on August 7. The maximum X-ray flux value of this flare was 1.37e-5 W/m^2, which we classify as an M1.3 flare.
This data can be accessed by going to and selecting “GOES Primary X-ray flux Timeline” under the eleventh tab in the magnetosphere section. 

Flares are very important to monitor and understand because they can cause radio blackouts and are associated with solar energetic particles (SEPs), which can damage spacecraft electronics and pose a threat to astronaut safety. Flares emit radiation that travels at the speed of light and SEPs travel at relativistic speeds of up to 80% the speed of light. This means that by the time we see a flare the radiation is already here and particles may be well on their way. This is why flare forecasting (trying to predict flares before they occur to provide advanced notice) is an important and ongoing scientific pursuit. 

Why BARREL Cares
By Alexa Halford

One of the very cool things about BARREL is that with only one primary science experiment we can see and study events not just in the Earth’s magnetosphere, but also on the Sun. When you have an explosive event such as a flare on the Sun, X-rays are produced. Some of these X-rays are scattered in all directions. As long as BARREL is in the line of sight, or in other words, in sunlight, we can capture the X-rays and study various aspects of the flare. Very few instruments have previously looked in the energy range that we look at, and thus we can add to the science knowledge of this part of the flare process.
We also care about documenting when BARREL is seeing X-rays associated with a solar flare so that we don’t mistakenly try to associate them with geomagnetic activity. One could say that the X-rays from the flare are a contamination of our data since we’re most interested in X-rays produced by radiation belt electrons in our atmosphere. I like to think of it not as contamination but a wonderful surprise. With this we get to study yet another field and do so much more research than we ever hoped for. Who would have thought (and probably lots of people did) that this small little set of balloons would be able to study not just the Earth’s radiation belt, not just solar energetic particles, but also help us understand the flare process often associated with the start of some of the larger space weather events! It’s just so cool! One instrument, relatively cheap balloons, and so much science! Who couldn’t love them!
Do you have any questions about flares? Want to learn more about what other space phenomenon flares can cause or what causes a flare in the first place? Feel free to ask your questions by commenting below! 

Special thanks to Dustin Mayfield-Jones!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

BARREL Status Report #12 August 17, 2016

BARREL Status Report #12
August 17, 2016

BARREL Flight 4B was terminated this morning at 0350 UT. The balloon started with a nice southerly trajectory, so we thought we might get a long flight out of it. But, it took a sharp turn to the west right after sunrise and had to be cut down as it approached the mountains. Despite the relatively short flight, we caught all of the RBSP conjunction we were targeting, and even had some substorm activity. We saw a very bright relativistic precipitation event which may have been associated with that substorm. The payload was recovered in very good shape earlier today. Note that this payload was also carrying the Univ. of Houston TEC experiment. We’re excited to see if they saw any change in total electron content due to the energetic precipitation! 

The Van Allen Probes EFW team is now requesting playback of burst data from our first flight and they are planning data collections for the next conjunctions. We will not be launching on Thursday due to the predicted flight trajectory (climb out is mostly west which shortens the flight substantially). So, the next launch attempt is likely to be on Friday. I’ll send another update then. 


NASA's BARREL Mission in Sweden

A BARREL team member recovers the second payload after it landed. 
The BARREL team is at Esrange Space Center near Kiruna, Sweden, launching a series of six scientific payloads on miniature scientific balloons. The NASA-funded BARREL – which stands for Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses – primarily measures X-rays in Earth’s atmosphere near the North and South Poles. These X-rays are produced by electrons raining down into the atmosphere from two giant swaths of radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen belts. Learning about the radiation near Earth helps us to better protect our satellites. 
Several of the BARREL balloons also carry instruments built by undergraduate students to measure the total electron content of Earth’s ionosphere, as well as the low-frequency electromagnetic waves that help to scatter electrons into Earth’s atmosphere. Though about 90 feet in diameter, the BARREL balloons are much smaller than standard football stadium-sized scientific balloons.
This is the fourth campaign for the BARREL mission. BARREL is led by Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The undergraduate student instrument team is led by the University of Houston and funded by the Undergraduate Student Instrument Project out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. For more information on NASA’s scientific balloon program, visit:
Image credit: NASA/Montana State University/Arlo Johnson

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The NASA Goddard BARREL Flicker page is up and running!

A huge thanks to Sarah Frazier for creating this amazing flicker page for BARREL. You can see all of the photos as we gather them here.

Thanks so much Sarah and all the photographers in our Kiruna Crew!

NASA's BARREL Mission in Sweden

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

BARREL Status Report #11 August 16, 2016

BARREL Status Report #11
August 16, 2016

BARREL flight 4B (payload 2J) was launched about 30 minutes ago at 2002 UT, right on schedule. The balloon is now at float altitude, ~36 km. The upper level winds are still holding out at a higher than desired speed, so this may be another short flight. But we still have a good chance to catch most of the conjunction with Van Allen Probes. A picture of inflation, courtesy of Gar Bering from the University of Houston, is attached.

The ABOVE2 experiment led by Chris Cully from University of Calgary is also planning to attempt a launch from Saskatoon today. If they do launch, they will be in conjunction with Van Allen for the orbit following the BARREL conjunction so this could be very interesting. Fingers crossed!