The CSBF Mission, History, and Accomplishments
The CSBF has the following three-fold mission:
- Plan and develop facilities and provide operations service to meet the
approved ballooning requirements of the scientific community.
- Perform the necessary research and development to meet future scientific
- Provide consulting services in the field of scientific ballooning.
The CSBF was established in Boulder, Colorado in 1961 under the auspices of
the National Science Foundation. The facility was moved to Palestine, Texas in
1963 and designated as the National Scientific Balloon Facility in January 1973.
Starting in August 1973, a new launch area was constructed. A 1000-ft
diameter paved circle for the launch vehicle with a 500-ft radius extension for
balloon layout provided twice the useful area of the old pad and greater
flexibility in balloon layout. The new launch area provided significant
improvement in capability. First, two launch areas permit simultaneous launches
and better utilization of good weather during periods of light stratospheric
winds. Second, the greater area of the new launch pad enables launching of
In 1982, sponsorship of the NSBF was transferred from the National Science
Foundation to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), and the NSBF became a separate entity under the University
Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).
In October 1987, the NASA contract to operate the NSBF was awarded to the
Physical Science Laboratory
under the auspices of
New Mexico State University located in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The contract
is administered by
Goddard Space Flight Center's
Wallops Flight Facility.
On February 1, 2003, the
Space Shuttle Columbia and crew were lost over the East Texas skies during
re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. The 28th and final flight of Columbia
(STS-107) was a 16-day mission dedicated to research in physical, life, and
space sciences. In the months following the loss of Columbia, the Facility and
surrounding community were instrumental in the debris recovery operations. On
February 1, 2006, the National Scientific Balloon Facility was renamed the
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility as a reminder of what the Columbia’s crew
stood for: honor, bravery, and the quest for knowledge for generations to come.
The official renaming ceremony was held at the Facility on February 23, 2006.
The Facility provides complete balloon operations services and engineering
support to the United States and foreign scientific communities. The
operations services include inflation, launching of the balloon, tracking
and recovery of the payload, and telecommand and data retrieval with reliable
electronics systems. Some of the areas of engineering support are design of
balloon systems, research in balloon materials, electronics design, gondola
design and thermal analysis. Also included are power system design,
instrumentation design and integration, and recovery system design.
In over 25 years of operation, the Facility has launched more than 1700
balloons for 35 universities, 23 other research agencies, and 33 foreign
groups. During this span of years there has been a dramatic increase in
sophistication of experiments and demands for service. This can best be shown
by comparisons of the growth in payload weight, balloon size, and the amount
of electronic support provided between 1963 and 1988. The average payload
increased from 407 pounds in 1964 to more than 3000 pounds in 1988. Average
balloon volume has increased from 2.8 million cubic feet (MCF) in 1964 to
over 20.0 MCF in 1988. Today, payloads weighing 5000 pounds are quite common
and balloons of 20 to 30 MCF are flown routinely.
The CSBF has launched six ELBBO superpressure balloons (including the longest
balloon flight in our history lasting over 4 months) for Professor
Bob Holzworth of the
Atmospheric Electrodynamics at the University of Washington.
Some types of research for which balloons are used
- Cosmic Ray studies
- Gamma Ray and X-Ray Astronomy
- Optical and Ultra-Violet Astronomy
- Infrared Astronomy
- Atmospheric Sciences
- Micrometeorite Particles
- Cosmic Microwave Background Studies
In addition to the Palestine operation, the CSBF conducts scientific
ballooning operations from various remote sites in the U.S. and several
foreign countries. The Facility is recognized on the international level as
being one of the most advanced organizations of its type in the world.
Countries the CSBF has flown experiments for:
- Great Britain
- New Zealand