NASA to Launch BRRISON to Edge of Atmosphere to View ISON Comet [Video]

NASA, science, BRRISON, APL, science, technology
This photograph from Zero2Infinity, the company that originally developed technologies for stratospheric ballooning.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center is ready to discover another galactic discovery with BRRISON. A comet called by the name of ISON has appeared within the solar system, marking a moment for NASA to glean information from this discovery. Scientists are scrambling to collect data before ISON passes the earth’s view and gets destroyed by the sun, since it seems it is heading on a one-way trip to the flamed star.

Scientists are thrilled to have the chance to glean data from this comet, that is slated to be known as one of “brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period,” states Dennis Bodewits, an Assistant Research Scientist for the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland.

A current project is underway called the Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON). The BRRISON project site details the mission:

Carrying a 0.8 m telescope and optical and infrared sensors to study the comet from above nearly all of Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is opaque at the light wavelengths that scientists want BRRISON to measure, which means those measurements are not possible from the ground. BRRISON will observe Comet ISON in the near-infrared and in the near-ultraviolet and visible wavelength ranges at an altitude of 120,000 feet. The near infrared camera will measure the ratio of carbon dioxide (CO2) to water (H2O) emissions from the cometary nuclei as a vital diagnostic of the comet’s origins. These are unique observations that cannot be obtained by any other means. The near ultraviolet and visible camera will observe at the wavelength of the hydroxyl (OH) emission from Comet ISON and will test and characterize the effects of atmospheric turbulence on optical observations at balloon altitudes.

The balloon mission, while all intentions point to ISON will also help scientists accomplish additional missions of interest, which “include Comet Encke; moons and other satellites of Jupiter; the hydrated (water-bearing) asteroids 24 Themis and 130 Elektra; the star systems Castor and Mizar.” Science fans are excited about the arrival of ISON, this will be the chance to capture the sight of one of the brightest comments in history, with the naked eye.


Timeline of ISON and Earth View
Timeline of ISON and Earth View-Courtesy of BRISSON

Gathering a team, after the discovery of ISON has proven to be tricky for NASA. The comet was originally discovered by Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski, near Kislovodsk, Russia. The pair used a 16-inch reflector “of the International Scientific Optical Network” and dubbed the discovery C/2012 s1.

Copyright: Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. At their observatory
Copyright: Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. At their observatory

NASA tapped the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University for assistance on starting the mission of BRRISON, the soon to be, revolutionary science balloon project. In addition, NASA stamped a fierce dead-line on the project, pushing for its expedited completion. The balloon mission would have to be launched within a year of its discovery or a scientific, once in a lifetime opportunity would be missed. The APL’s Program Manager, Dewey Adams stated, “such a program would normally take 18–24 months to develop.”

The APL had previous experience (not as intricate) but the lab members did successfully launch a, “Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO) balloon mission, which studied the Milky Way in early 2012.” The previous mission was the signifying path to developing the idea of BRRISON from idea to creation. John Hopkins APL stated the following:

When completed (scheduled for early September), BRRISON’s gondola and attached science payload will be trucked to NASA’s Scientific Balloon Flight Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where it will be joined to a balloon. A few weeks later, the team will attempt to launch; just like a spacecraft launches, balloon launches are subject to weather and cloud restrictions that can delay scheduled ascents. If all goes well and BRRISON can perform its mission, it will spend only about 20 hours aloft before returning to Earth; the proximity of population centers makes longer flights too risky.

The tangible thread of excitement is reverberating throughout the team at the APL and throughout the science industry. The launch can show an invaluable method of discovering scientific information on more than just comets. The BRISSON project has lofty goals, the first encompasses capturing detailed information from ISON. Heading to the edge of atmosphere later this year, all eyes will be looking up to capture a piece of scientific history.

Angelina Bouc

Sources 1 2 3 4
In Bloon