A GIANT BALLOON launched from Paardefontein near Hammanskraal on Ascension Day, May 28 1981, has taken the very high road over the Indian Ocean to cross vast Australia, and is now on its way to the Americas.
A second one, released in the middle of June, is at present lingering somewhere very high above the land of the Maori and the kangaroo. Below each hangs a "payload" of instruments, solar panels, batteries and transmitters, communicating regularly with ground tracking stations such as the one at Paardefontein, via the NOAA satellites.
The balloons are necessary for a series of long duration flight experiments being carried out by the Balloon Division of the CNES, the French Space Research Agency or Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales.

The object of these experiments is the testing of two fairly new types of balloon for long duration atmosphere and weather monitoring flights.
The first balloon was a "BPS" or pressurised atmospheric balloon of 5800 m3, and the second, the launching of which Sciendaba was privileged to attend, a giant Montgolfier or hot-air balloon of no less than 36 000 m3 capacity.

Through the NOAA satellites and Argos system, the precise positions of the balloons are relayed twice daily, among others, to the Satellite Tracking Station at Paardefontcin.
All balloon "housekeeping" data are received in realtime and converted into physical values by computer. These data can be received here from a distance of 6 000 km.
Two previously launched balloons were not so successfull. One went down near Badplaas, and was recovered for the researchers by the local police. Interesting that it continued transmitting data about its position etc. even while it was waiting for its owners to come and fetch it, so that the balloon trackers were able to supply the police there with refined map references for their station, as relayed via NOAA. Must be the first time in history that the long arm of the law was fingered from space.

Another balloon went down near the Botswana border. Its position was also transmitted to the last, and SAAF helicopter sent out to locate it, found it only about 1 kilometer away from the expected spot. The balloon still has to be brought back.
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