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For Immediate Release

September 28, 2013

Media Contact:

Geoffrey Brown
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
(240) 228-5618 or (443) 778-5618

BRRISON Soars to Study Comet ISON

NASA's Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON) launches at 8:10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 28, 2013, from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, N.M. The gondola carries a 0.8-meter telescope and two instruments that will attempt to observe Comet ISON, a rare type of Oort Cloud comet that will pass close to the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., built BRRISON and manages the project for NASA.


The Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON), built and managed for NASA by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), lifted off at 8:10 p.m. EDT from Fort Sumner, N.M., on a mission that includes Comet ISON as one of its observation targets.

Following an uncommon evening launch from Fort Sumner, BRRISON will observe the comet for up to six hours using infrared and near ultraviolet/visible imaging systems while suspended from a NASA scientific balloon about 127,000 feet above the Earth.

“There are so many firsts when it comes to BRRISON,” says APL’s Andrew Cheng, BRRISON principal investigator. “This is the first time we’ve been able to deploy this level of technology to study an Oort Cloud comet of this type, and we’re doing it from a scientific balloon. The data from BRRISON’s instruments should give us an unparalleled look into what frozen volatiles exist in Comet ISON — materials preserved from the formation of the solar system some four billion years ago, such as water and carbon dioxide. We hope to address some of the big questions we have about how planets were formed, and how life may have evolved.”

BRRISON is the first balloon mission to study a comet in more than 40 years. Comet ISON, discovered in September 2012, is an Oort Cloud comet formed about four million years ago, and is thought to contain volatiles like water and carbon dioxide from that time. Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun on Nov. 28, 2013.

“To go from concept to construction to flight, and now to science data, in just nine months is a real testament to the skill of the engineering and science teams,” says Dewey Adams, BRRISON project manager at APL in Laurel, Md. “We’re proud we could meet this challenge, and excited to learn what BRRISON reveals about the composition of Comet ISON.”

Along with the comet, BRRISON will also study numerous other celestial objects during its flight. In addition to observing Comet ISON, scientists plan to have BRRISON observe many other targets during its flight. These include Comet Encke, moons and other satellites of Jupiter, the hydrated (water-bearing) asteroids 10 Hygiea and 130 Elektra, the star system Mizar, and Earth’s moon.

“Balloon scientific missions face a number of challenges, most notably the requirement for very specific weather to launch,” explains Pietro Bernasconi, BRRISON gondola lead, from APL. “We did a great job getting this mission ready to fly in a remarkably short period of time, and we’ve been able to launch a very capable scientific research platform in less than a year. We were ready to take advantage of a rare favorable nighttime launch condition from Fort Sumner, and really made the most of the chance to study ISON.”

BRRISON was developed for NASA by APL, which built the gondola and the infrared instrument, provided the telescope, and manages the project. The project was managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The Southwest Research Institute Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Co., built and manages the near ultraviolet/visible light instrument. The payload was the first balloon mission sponsored by NASA’s Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, Palestine, Texas, and the Scientific Balloon Program Office at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va., also supported the mission.

More information on NASA’s study of Comet ISON can be found on the web at Follow BRRISON’s mission at and on Facebook (BRRISON) and Twitter (@BRRISON).

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit

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