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Saturday, 1st of September 2012:
On rocky roads
In 2012 we celebrate “Victor Hess Year”, to honour the Austrian physicist who discovered the cosmic radiation during a balloon flight in 1912. He can be seen as the father of Particle Physics, and was awarded Nobel Price for his discovery. The Austrian Institute of High Energy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences organised several talks in Schlossberg/Graz.
The theme of the event is “On to Space” shall launch and fly up to 35km above ground to measure radiation with a Geigercounter. Unfortunately is only the fact that the weather is still miserable. Still, some members of the public have arrived who brave the cold (13 degrees Celsius!) weather and listen to the talks of several invited speakers.
After an introduction to the topic “Victor Franz Hess and the discovery of cosmic radiation” from Heinz Krenn (Victor-Franz-Hess Society) and a lecture about “Balloons – now and then” from Josef Starkbaum (multiple balloon flight world champion) more interesting details about “Cosmic Radiation in Everyday Life and Technology” are presented from Thomas Bergauer (Institute of High Energy Physics). In order to warm up people move around and visit the information stands from the Austrian Space Forum (Österreichisches Weltraum Forum, ÖWF), the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Austrian Acadmy of Sciences (HEPHY) and the Austrian Testemitter Society (Österreichischer Versuchssender Verband, ÖVSV).
The ÖVSV is also responsible for transmitting live images from the balloon camera to big screens in the Kasematten hall. Norbert Frischauf (ÖWF) who moderates the event has to juggle the different highlights of the event, as the rain forces to change the planned course of the event. With half an hour delay the balloon finally takes off at 11:00 AM. A responsive audience witnesses as the balloon manages to take to the sky after strong winds have nearly blown it into some trees.
Finally Sherpa has gone, and we await the first images. They arrive with a slight delay and – due to the rain – with some disruptions. However, the view we get of Graz is worth the wait. After a while, the balloon disappears in the clouds, and the audience turns its attention once more to the speakers.
At the observatory Lustbuehel the most exciting part has only just begun. A signal from the payload allows us to follow Sherpa I further – together with many amateur radio operators all over Austria. Also the Austrian Armed Forces, who cooperate for some years with the Austrian Space Forum, follows the balloon with their Radar “Goldhaube” (golden hat).
No one expects that this balloon will set a new record – its journey will take much longer than expected and take it further than ever before! Half an hour after launch, Sherpa I has reached 4km and is headed towards North. The direction never changes, but due to the heavy rain the balloon rises and falls like a rollercoaster between 2 and 4 km.
A preliminary maximum height is reached at the border to lower Austria with 4.8km at 14:20. At 16:00 – while over St. Poelten – it sinks again down to 2km, before it finally finds a way out of the cloud and gains height. Sherpa I also travels at a high velocity – only 45 minutes later, over Pulkau, it has risen to 10 km. Just before 17:00 it crosses the border to the Czech Republik at a height of 12km.
North of Dukovany at around 17:45 it reaches its final height of 20.067 km and rips apart. First it goes into a loop over a reservoir, but then the wind catches it and pulls the capsule further towards north-north-east. After nearly 7 hours the payload lands a bit west of Bruenn, where a team of the Austrian Space Forum recovers it safe and sound.
This mission is the longest and furthest flight of any Passepartout-balloon so far. The analysis of its data will show if Sherpa I has any other surprises up its sleeve!
This article is available in: German
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