July 7, 2011

Swedish Space Center’s Balloon Telescope Fails Launch Attempt

The Swedish space center said Thursday that scientists were forced to stop building a project to test the impact of stars when a balloon carrying an X-ray telescope began leaking helium.

"We sent it up without any problems, but then we were forced to take it down. It was leaking, and when a balloon leaks it loses height," Johanna Bergstroem-Roos of the Esrange Space Center, near Kiruna in northern Sweden, told AFP.

The Polarized Gamma-ray Observer (PoGoLite) is a telescope dangling from an enormous balloon filled with helium that was launched Wednesday from Esrange and was brought back to earth just a few hours later.

Space center officials could not say exactly how far the balloon had gone, only saying it "did not go very far" and never made it past the mountain range on the Swedish-Norwegian border.

The officials said the balloon reached an altitude of about 22 miles, just short of its 23-mile goal.

The PoGoLite's goal is to study the X-rays emitted by neutron stars, pulsars and black hole systems.

Scientists said on the project's website that the balloon-telescope was meant to drift on westward winds to Norway and onto Iceland, Greenland and Canada.

They even hoped for the balloon to make it all the way around to the North Pole by continuing "the flight over Alaska and onwards over Russia, returning to Sweden some 20 days" after the launch.

"We reached 35 kilometers (22 miles). We are hugely disappointed, and are hoping that the gondola is intact," the scientists said on PoGoLite's website.

Bergstroem-Roos told AFP the cause of the failure had to be investigated before another launch attempt could be made.