15/11/2017

PACKMAN B2 at Esrange Space Center


Last October 18th, the balloon version of Particle Counter K-index Magnetic Anomaly (PACKMAN-B), was launched from Esrange Space Center (a facility of the Swedish Space Corporation -SSC- whose name stands for European Space Range), in a flight which opened the regular collaboration agreed between the center and Atmospheric Science Group. Although this was the second flight of the instrument (called PACKMAN B2 on this occasion), which was already tested on board a balloon launched from Córdoba, Spain, last August, this time the operations have taken place in the arctic region, where the instrument has been specifically conceived to work.

The balloon carrying PACKMAN B2. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

Basically, the instrument carried to Esrange was the same launched from Córdoba except for the lack of the HABIT’s air temperature sensor (ATS), which was mounted of the B1 version. The aim of using it on PACKMAN B is to develop the protocol to retrieve wind direction and speed data from the temperature measurements obtained. Counting on an accurate profile of the wind regime at Esrange is very useful information for the scheduling of the launches from the center, so it will be reincorporated as payload in further campaigns, since providing this study is part of the contribution of Atmospheric Science Group.
The mentioned collaboration will mean the possibility of including PACKMAN B in several kinds of campaigns performed regularly by SSC. On one hand, the instrument can be mounted in the frequent meteorological sounding balloons which are launched from there, as well as in other periodical flights of greater balloons. Furthermore, PACKMAN can be mounted on circumpolar flights, which would offer the possibility of getting long term data sets from above the whole arctic region, where the most significant measurements to study the space weather are expected to be collected.

PACKMAN-B2 in the flight train. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

On the other hand, dedicated flights can be organized to launch PACKMAN when especially interesting circumstances warrant doing so, for instance during high solar activity periods.
The low weight of the instrument makes it possible to put it in any of these balloons without any change in its flight configuration, with the only requirement of being provided with an independent power source in order to avoid any issue with the rest of the experiments the common flight power is intended for. This matter will require a special attention when participating in the circumpolar flights, whose long duration impose the necessity of redesign the power system.

As for the performance of PACKMAN B2 in the campaign, it must be remarked that the instrument worked satisfactorily, registering all the expected data during the traverse of the balloon, namely, the incident cosmic radiation by means of its Geiger counters, and the magnetic field in three perpendicular axes with the correspondent magnetometers. It reached the floating stage at an altitude of 26.5 km, and was in the air for more than 4 hours, including the ascent and descent phases. So the instrument has resisted two flights now, and has survived both in good use, being necessary to introduce only minor improvements for the upcoming flights, in which the aforementioned ATS will be present again. Regarding this matter, ATS, as well as other devices which are exposed to the open air outside the containing box (a camera and environmental sensors to monitor the ambient conditions) should be conveniently allocated to avoid damages during the cut-off of the balloon and the later touchdown.
The data obtained will help to define a vertical profile of the measured parameters, complementing those obtained from the surface by the ground version of the instrument (PACKMAN G), of which there are four operating now.

Images taken by the PACKMAN B2 camera during the flight. Credit: Atmospheric Science Group