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      Development of ultra-thin polyethylene balloons for high altitude research upto mesosphere


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          Ever since its inception four decades back, Balloon Facility of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Hyderabad has been functioning with the needs of its user scientists at its focus. During the early nineties, when the X-ray astronomy group at TIFR expressed the need for balloons capable of carrying the X-ray telescopes to altitudes up to 42 km, the balloon group initiated research and development work on indigenous balloon grade films in various thickness not only for the main experiment but also in parallel, took up the development of thin films in thickness range 5 to 6 microns for fabrication of sounding balloons required for probing the stratosphere up to 42 km as the regular 2000 grams rubber balloon ascents could not reach altitudes higher than 38 km. By the year 1999, total indigenisation of sounding balloon manufacture was accomplished. The work on balloon grade ultra-thin polyethylene film in thickness range 2.8 to 3.8 microns for fabrication of balloons capable of penetrating mesosphere to meet the needs of user scientists working in the area of atmospheric dynamics commenced in 2011. Pursuant to the successful trials with 61,000 cu.m balloon made of 3.8 microns Antrix film reaching stratopause (48 km) for the first time in the history of balloon facility in the year 2012, fine tuning of launch parameters like percentage free lift was carried out to take the same volume balloons to higher mesospheric altitudes. Three successful flights with a total suspended load of 10 kg using 61,000 cu.m balloons were carried out in the month of January 2014 and all the three balloons crossed in to the mesosphere reaching altitudes of over 51 km. All the balloons flown so far are closed system with no escape ducts. Balloon fabrication, development of launch hardware, flight control instruments and launch technique for these mesospheric balloon flights are discussed in this paper.

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          19 August 2014

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          19 pages, 15 figures, 4 tables. Accepted for publication in Journal of Astronomical Instrumentation


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