An Engineer’s View of Antarctica: Working in an Adverse Environment

Feb 20th 2011, 13:00

Sioux Falls, SD – Our story beings in Sulphur Springs, TX on November 27, 2010 as Justin Marsh packs his bags to board a plane the next day bound for Antarctica.  Unsure what to bring for the 52 day trip, Justin, an aerospace engineer for Raven Industries Aerostar out of the Sulphur Springs manufacturing plant, packs his camera and warmest clothes saved from his time at Iowa State University.

Justin is headed to Antarctica to test a Super Pressure Balloon Aerostar produces.  The balloon is 14 Million Cubic Feet (MCF), and the purpose of this trip is to test the balloon’s capability to carry a gross payload of 4,000 lbs at a consistent altitude of 111,000 feet with a deviation of less than 500 feet.  Antarctica may seem like a long way to travel to test a balloon, but it offers ideal launch conditions, and anticyclone stratospheric wind currents for a flight path that will circumnavigate the continent.  This period of time is also Antarctica’s summer season in which the sun never sets; this is favorable for super pressure balloons since the rising and setting of the sun can affect the pressure level of the balloon.  Other locations these balloons have been tested in include New Mexico, Northern Sweden, and Australia. 

As one could imagine, travel to Antarctica is intensive.  Justin took a 14 hour flight from Sulphur Springs, TX to northern New Zealand, followed by an hour plane ride to southern New Zealand where the US Antarctic program is located to receive orientation.  During the two day orientation, Justin watched a video brief and received extreme cold weather gear (ECW) including two orange duffels stuffed with thermals, a parka, snow pants, and long underwear.  The Air National Guard’s 109th airlift wing out of New York arranged their next method of transportation via a C17 aircraft to move the 140 people plus cargo five hours to Antarctica landing on a glacier ice shelf.  The passengers were then shuffled into jacket vans and navy delta vehicles to take them to McMurdo Station located on the volcanic rock that makes up Ross Island.  

Inside McMurdo Station, Justin was issued a roommate and described the experience similar to that of a college dormitory.  The station dormitories had two floors, community bathrooms, and a cafeteria.  There were strict rules on garbage containment and water usage.  Food arrived to the station two times a week on the same C17 he rode down on which made fresh fruit with salad coveted meals.  Every day Justin and 20 to 40 other travelers drove an hour from McMurdo to the Long Duration Balloon site (LDB) located on the ice shelf to prepare the balloon for flight. 

The super pressure balloon performed beautifully.  The balloon was launched January 9, 2011 and for more than three weeks it flew at a consistent altitude of 111,000 feet with a deviation of less than 500 feet.  Although the balloon was showing no signs of stress, NASA brought the balloon down to ensure ease of recoverability of the payload, and the balloon community hails this flight as a tremendous success.  Justin calls the super pressure balloon an evolving project and has learned a lot from this test flight. 

When asked about personal take-aways from the trip, Justin responded, “I got to meet a lot of great people and see things others don’t get the chance to see in their lifetime.  Visiting Antarctica is like visiting a different planet.  Though I was surprised that it wasn’t colder, since the lowest temperature we had was 16 degrees Fahrenheit, and during that time Texas actually had a few colder days!”  Repeat journeys to Antarctica may be in Justin’s future due to the success of this trip.  We look forward to hearing about his continued accomplishments. 

About Aerostar International

Aerostar International, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Raven Industries (Nasdaq NGS: RAVN), a U.S. manufacturer providing Aerospace Products, Military Products, Tethered Aerostats, Protective Wear, Marine Navigation Products and Custom Inflatables to various markets. Raven Aerostar has been involved in lighter-than-air products since the 1950’s.  Today, Raven Aerostar engineers and manufactures aerostats for military and non-military use.  Aerostar also manufactures personnel and cargo parachutes for the U.S. Army, protective wear for all branches of the military, high-altitude super-pressure balloons for NASA, high-altitude airships for the Space Missile Defense Command and custom character inflatables for the largest Thanksgiving Day Parade and theme parks.

About Raven Industries, Inc.

Since 1956, Raven Industries has provided high-quality, high-value technical products.  Raven is publicly traded on NASDAQ (RAVN) and has earned an international reputation for innovation, product quality, high performance and unmatched service.  With strengths in engineering and technological innovation, Raven provides custom solutions including precision agriculture applications, high performance specialty films, aerostats for communications and surveillance, and electronic manufacturing services.