This is awful: during the launch of a high-altitude balloon, something went wrong. The balloon dragged the payload across the ground, destroying it, and in the meantime not doing any good to an SUV parked nearby:
This happened yesterday, in Australia. No one was hurt, but the payload apparently was totaled. It looks to me that the balloon got caught by some wind before they were quite ready to launch, and it pulled the payload off the crane. Seeing what it did to that SUV… yikes.
The balloon was carrying gamma-ray detectors as a testbed for a future NASA observatory. Gamma rays don’t penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, so observatories have to be launched into space. The detectors on-board can be tested on the ground, but at some point need to get up above as much of the atmosphere as possible to see how they do in those conditions and observing actual astronomical sources. Balloons are the easiest and cheapest way to do that.
I know some folks who have done balloon launches like this, and they’ve told me it can be a little hairy. I trusted them, but until I saw that payload smash into and flip over that truck, I didn’t fully realize what they meant. Wow.
This is a setback for NASA and the team building the observatory. I don’t know how much, exactly, but I’m sure it will be months or even years to rebuild this. I can’t imagine much will be salvaged off this disaster.