Leon y Castilla, Spain.- On November 12, 2012 the Spanish private aerospace firm Zero 2 Infinity (Z2I) performed successfully a stratospheric balloon mission from the Civilian/Military airport of Virgen del Camino, in central Spain. The flight was the first balloon mission conducted there in the last 15 years.

The launch took place under near perfect meteorological conditions with clear skies and light surface winds. The Spanish, Zero 2 Infinity team covered the equipment fabrication, ground support and local logistic, while the launch operations were orchestrated by Steven Peterzén from The ISTAR Group, a firm with headquarters in Bend, Oregon (United States) which provides support to balloon operations for many programs around the globe. ISTAR was contracted by Z2I in March of 2012 to offer equipment design, launch procedure training, outline recovery options, and campaign management. The balloon used in this flight was manufactured in India by the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) and had a volume of 43.464 cubic meters.

The payload attached to the balloon was the Microbloon capsule, a 2 m in diameter scaled-down model of Bloon, a commercial vehicle being developed by Z2I which in the future will take humans to the edge of Space. The “pilot” inside the capsule was a small robot provided by the robotics group of the University of León.

The balloon was launched from the main runway of the Leon airport at 13:10 utc. During the initial ascent phase the balloon ascended in a southward course, until reaching the maximum float altitude of 31.8 km where the prevailing winds pushed the vehicle in an eastwards path. After two and a half hours of leveled flight the payload was separated from the balloon at 17:10 utc while flying SW of Burgos. After descending under his own parachute it come to rest undamaged in a hay field located near Encinas de Esgueva, in the Valladolid Province. The balloon and payload were all recovered within 2 hours by the Z2I launch/recovery team. Bellow these lines can be seen a video of the launch operations and a small portion of the leveled flight.

“…It’s very exciting to be this close to flying people on bloon. The environmental conditions inside the pod remained comfortable at all times. The efficiency of the aviation safety agencies (AENA, AESA), local governments and especially the Spanish Air Force was key for this success. When everyone works together, anything can be achieved in Spain…” said after the flight José Mariano Lopez Urdiales CEO of the firm, that is developing this stratospheric balloon program for supporting science, commercial testing, and eventually space tourism from central Spain.

Under this lines we can see two impressive images taken during the flight. Many more can be seen clicking here

The first results show that the temperature inside the capsule remained above 15ºC throughout the flight, with 20% humidity. The pressure remained stable between 900 and 950mb, which is equivalent to the pressure experienced at 1000 m above sea-level. 

This mission was a continuation of the efforts started earlier in the year: during the Spring/Summer 2012 training period, two other balloons were made ready for launch. While the first balloon (intended to be launched on May 29th) was destroyed by wind gusts, the second balloon (November 8th) was tethered and was used only as a launch practice tool.

Jose Luis Garcia Bravo a technician part of the Z2I team, built a new telemetry and video system for this campaign. The flight also employed a Telemetry system designed and build by Paolo de Bernardis from Italy. Both systems performed perfectly. Pierre Dedieu, a meteorologist with years of experience with the French Space Agency high altitude balloon program was in charge of the weather forecast and trajectories.

Zero To Infinity goal is to provide in the future access to near-space to society, transporting in the full scale version of the Bloon capsule up to 4 passengers and two pilots. In those flights, passengers will conduct scientific experiments at a fraction of the cost of other space missions or simply enjoy the view of the curvature of the Earth through the pod’s panoramic windows during the 2 hours spent at an altitude of 36 km.