Press

Kiruna, 30 June 2008

Press Release from the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF)

Swedes and Swiss test Martian technology on a long duration balloon flight over the Atlantic

MEAP launch

Release of the balloon, seconds before the lift-off of the MEAP/P-BACE platform from the launch pad at Esrange Space Center, Kiruna. (Photo: M. Wieser, IRF)

At 7:07 local time on Saturday (28 June) the balloon - borne experiment MEAP took aloft off from the Swedish Space Corporation's launch facility Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden. The flight will test P-BACE, a new mass spectrometer developed by the University of Bern in collaboration with the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) for future future space flights to other planets. MEAP ( Mars Environment Analogue Platform) is an exciting project that will play an important role in the development of similar instruments for planetary and atmospheric research, particularly on Mars but even on Venus.

The scientific mission

The MEAP experiment was lifted by a 100 m diameter balloon (334,000 cubic metres) which reached the predicted altitude of 37 km within three hours. MEAP carries the high resolution neutral gas mass spectrometer P-BACE (Polar Balloon Atmospheric Composition Experiment), for in situ measurement of atmospheric composition.

"The atmospheric conditions at 30-40 km altitude are remarkably similar to those on the surface of Mars, so a stratospheric balloon is an ideal test bed for instrumentation destined for Mars", says Dr Martin Wieser, scientist at IRF.

"P-BACE has a mass range that significantly exceeds that of previous instruments", says Prof. Dr Peter Wurz (University of Bern), "so the present investigation has the potential for interesting research in this chemically highly complex and dynamic region of the atmosphere."

Future circumpolar flights

The technical aim of this flight is to extend the range of SSC balloon flights from Esrange Space Center to include circumpolar flights around the North Pole during the summertime.

"This successful launch is an important step for SSC to get prepare d for our next big challenge within ballooning", says Dr. Olle Norberg, Head of Esrange Space Center. "We are planning to offer the scientific community long duration flight s around the North Pole during both summer and winter, in order to meet the scientists ' demand desire to fly experiments all year around. We are in an intensive phase of developing a range of new technical systems to make this happen. We are also working on getting a permanent permission to fly over Russia".

After 5-6 days the payload will be cut off from the balloon and descend under a parachute to land in the northern parts of Canada or Alaska where it will be recovered by helicopter.

Read more about the scientific mission and check the current balloon position and view the latest P-BACE data here: http://www.irf.se/meap-pbace/

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The Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) is a governmental research institute which conducts research and postgraduate education in atmospheric physics, space physics and space technology. Measurements are made in the atmosphere, ionosphere, magnetosphere and around other planets with the help of ground-based equipment (including radar), stratospheric balloons and satellites. IRF was established (as Kiruna Geophysical Observatory) in 1957 and its first satellite instrument was launched in 1968. The head office is in Kiruna (geographic coordinates 67.84° N, 20.41° E) and IRF also has offices in Umeå, Uppsala and Lund.


Institutet för rymdfysik, IRF, är ett statligt forskningsinstitut under Utbildningsdepartementet. IRF bedriver grundforskning och forskarutbildning i rymdfysik, atmosfärsfysik och rymdteknik. Mätningar görs i atmosfären, jonosfären, magnetosfären och runt andra planeter med hjälp av ballonger, markbaserad utrustning (bl a radar) och satelliter. För närvarande har IRF instrument ombord på satelliter i bana runt tre planeter, jorden, Mars och Saturnus. IRF har ca 100 anställda och bedriver verksamhet i Kiruna (huvudkontoret), Umeå, Uppsala och Lund.