Surrey reaches the stratosphere on NASA Rad-X balloon to measure radiation
A Surrey Space Centre experiment to measure radiation levels high in the stratosphere was successfully carried aloft to an altitude of 125,000ft (38km) over the weekend (25-26 September) as part of the NASA Rad-X stratospheric balloon payload.
This is more than three times higher than commercial flight altitudes, and twice the cruising altitude of the famous Concorde. The balloon was launched from the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, New Mexico, USA, and spent about 24 hours afloat taking measurements.
The payload remained at 125,000 feet for about eight hours and then it descended to about 80,000ft for the remainder of the time to collect data at different altitudes. The payload has now been safely recovered from the New Mexico desert by NASA teams and we are looking forward to carrying out the data analysis.
On-board camera view at 125kft
The Rad-X mission aims to obtain crucial additional data to better characterise the interactions of cosmic rays and solar particles with the upper atmosphere. In this region neutrons and other particles are generated (think of the large hadron collider) which can pose a hazard for modern aircraft control systems located at lower altitude where they also give passengers and crew doses of radiation, especially during certain space weather events.
In future aircraft engineers want to design aircraft to fly significantly higher than they do currently, where conditions are much more ‘space-like’ and hence we need better data and models for this region of the atmosphere. SSC has been funded by NASA to participate in this mission.