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TIFR Balloon Facility launches space capsule for Singapore experiment

India's atmospheric exploration and cosmic ray studies programmes were the main boosters of the birth of ballooning activity. It was way back in the 1940's that Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha  from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) became a pioneer in the field, sending scientific equipment to altitudes of 25-30 km using clusters of up to 60 hydrogen filled rubber balloons. The aim of these early experiences was to study the secondary cosmic radiation through the use of emulsion plates to record the track left by these particles interacting with our atmosphere.

Over the years, the evolution in complexity of the experiments forced an increase in the payload's size which became progressively larger and heavier. Thus, in March 1956, another pioneer in the ballooning arena, Prof. Bernard Peters from TIFR started a research program for the manufacture of plastic balloons which were able to transport these bigger payloads to nearly 35 km of altitude. The effort was under the direction of Prof. M. G. K. Menon, with the technical guidance of Prof. G. S. Gokhale. As a result of the work they had done, the first successful polyethylene balloon flight took place in April 1959 from the Osmania University Campus in Hyderabad, a place that would become the main balloon launch site in the decade that followed.

After two decades at Osmania and more than 170 flights made from there, the time arrived in the mid sixties to start thinking about the growth and consolidation of a national scientific balloon program. The next logical step was to build a dedicated launch base.

After careful consideration, a decision was taken to create the National Balloon Facility (NBF). It was established on an open terrain of 25 hectares belonging to TIFR and located in a then rural, lowly populated area east of Secunderabad. By December 1969, it was operative, with the first launch of a balloon accomplished successfully. The initial isolation of the launch facility changed drastically over the years, as the zone experienced a sudden growth with the consolidation in the 1990's of the Cherlapally Industrial Development Area as well as several housing settlements. Today, the base is surrounded by the Cherlapally Central Jail to the east, the North Kamala Nagar village to the west and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) to the south.

A unique feature of the TIFR Balloon Facility Hyderabad, is that it has all aspects of Scientific Ballooning i.e. Balloon Design and Fabrication, Payload Integration with Telemetry, Telecommand and other instrumentation, and finally Balloon Launch, Tracking, Data Collection, Balloon Flight Control, as also Payload Recovery, under one roof.

Balloons are launched during two seasons in a year: Summer (January - April) and Winter (October - December). In addition to launching balloons, this centre also regularly monitors and analyses local weather at tropospheric and stratospheric altitudes, which is crucial for making decisions about balloon launches.