Up, Up, and Away–Automated Balloon Launcher Headed to North Slope

Published: 15 June 2010

The balloon-borne sounding system (BBSS) operates at ARM’s three fixed sites and the ARM Mobile Facility. Sondes, launched into the air, provide information about the atmosphere’s temperature, moisture, pressure, and wind speed. Performing regular balloon launches can be difficult, even dangerous, in the arctic climates of the North Slope of Alaska (NSA). But a new instrument system funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will soon automate the launching process.

The automated balloon launcher includes a heated shelter, helium, and a 'daisy wheel' that holds numerous balloons with attached radiosondes.

An automated, remotely controlled balloon launching facility, manufactured by Vaisala, is scheduled to be installed at the NSA site later this summer. In April, ARM instrument mentors Donna Holdridge and Jenni Prell from Argonne National Laboratory traveled to Finland to oversee final testing of the BBSS automated launcher. Testing took approximately two days which included a meeting at Vaisala Headquarters in Vantaa, Finland, to sign the acceptance documents. They also met with several Vaisala personnel, toured the clean room where the relative humidity and pressure sensors are manufactured, and visited the manufacturing and assembly area for RS-92 radiosondes and the Vaisala calibration facilities.

The automated launcher, once installed, will be capable of launching as many as 24 balloons before requiring restocking. Installation will require some infrastructure updates in order to support the launcher. Mark Ivey, NSA site manager, is overseeing the installation at the NSA site.