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History Of Ballooning in TIFR

Scientific Ballooning

Zero pressure plastic balloons offer a nice observational platform at altitudes higher than aircraft altitudes and have been used the world over for research in various areas of science.

Scientific ballooning at TIFR has evolved over time with early work in Cosmic Ray studies being carried out with tandem latex balloons. This system had limitations in payload weight carrying capacity as well as the achievable float altitude and float duration. Hence, in 1955, a program to develop zero pressure polyethylene balloons was initiated at TIFR. Balloon flights were conducted from different parts of the country from Kashmir to Madras. From 1959 onwards, the Osmania University Campus at Hyderabad became the centre for all launch operations due to its near equatorial location. In the pre 1970 period, balloon design and fabrication work was carried out at the Institute campus in Mumbai.

The present campus of the Scientific Balloon Facility, nicknamed as TIFR Balloon Facility, having a large circular 300-meter diameter launch area was established in 1970 as the field station of the Plastic Balloon Section of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, which is a National Centre of the Govt. of India for Nuclear Science and Mathematics. In 1980, TIFR Balloon Facility was renamed as the TIFR National Balloon Facility with a small annual grant from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Since it's inception in 1970, the TIFR National Balloon Facility has been used extensively by the Scientific Community from within the country as well as from abroad. Balloon Flights carrying payloads of scientific experiments in Cosmic Ray, X-Ray, Gamma Ray and Infrared Astronomy, Astrobiology as well as Atmospheric sciences have been launched from this facility with several important and interesting results being obtained.

TIFR Balloon Facility is a unique centre of Technology which offers complete solutions in scientific ballooning for high altitude studies. The centre has an in house balloon production facility as well as ground facilities for balloon launching and recovery operations, a control room for handling the data (telemetry) and command (telecommand) operations using S-band Telemetry, and balloon tracking capabilities.

A large launch area attached to the fabrication facility gives operational flexibility and optimal utilization of the available manpower. Secondly, the large size of the launch area enables launching of larger balloons up to 740,000 m3.

Cosmic ray studies in the 40's and early 50's were conducted using latex balloons for high altitude observations. Driven by the need to better understand the environment of the upper atmosphere and conduct experiments at stratospheric heights, the development of single cell polyethylene balloons started before the second world war.

Early Days

Scientific ballooning activity in India was initiated by the late Dr. Homi J. Bhabha at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, in the late nineteen forties. Scientific equipment weighing about 25 kg were carried to altitudes of 25-30 km by a cluster of about 50-60 rubber balloons for the study of secondary cosmic radiation.

Developmental work on large polyethylene balloons which can carry payloads of a few hundreds of kilograms to stratospheric altitudes of 30-35 Km at TIFR started in March 1956.

The use of a lighter than air hydrogen filled balloons as a space platform to carry out measurements in several areas of space science and astronomy for other high altitude studies, is still an attractive proposition.

The first successful balloon flight was made in April 1959, and during the decade that followed, about 176 flights were made from the Osmania University and two collaborative International balloon flight programmes were also conducted, one in 1961, sponsored by AFCRL (now AFGL), USA and other in 1985 during the International Quiet Sun Year (IQSY) period sponsored by NSF, USA, and managed by NCAR, USA, in which scientists from all over the world participated.

With the increasing demand for balloon flights from Hyderabad because of its proximity to the geomagnetic equator, both from National Institutions and the International Scientific Community, a permanent campus was established at Hyderabad

This is the only major balloon facility in the world close to the geomagnetic equator - the magnetic latitude is 8°N, with a vertical rigidity cut-off for protons at 16.8 GeV, and for higher Z particles at 7.5 GeV per nucleon.