Politics, Economics & Launch

Today we are posting to bring you all up to speed on where we are on the project. We have had a bit of a delay due to a national shortage of helium. One would think that something so abundant in nature would be relatively easy to obtain. Not so!  And it’s a bit of a long story that took us down the road of some basic economic principles and politics. Long story short, we have obtained about 75% of the helium we need and think we will have the rest tomorrow. If we do, our launch will be either this weekend or next depending on weather conditions the day of launch. So, stay tuned!

At this point we have tested the parachute with a identical weight payload, created the actual payload, mounted the cameras and tested the location devices.

All that remains is constructing the fill device and creating launch checklists for pre-launch and launch day items. Oh, and testing the GPS retrieval devices again and maybe one more time after that.

– Terra Incognita Team

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For more information on Helium shortage read below.

It seems the Helium shortage is national/international shortage not just regional. Because of the scarce supply all the distributors have put the suppliers on a reduced ration and banned new accounts for their suppliers. There are checks and balances in place to monitor this. And the suppliers have intern, suspended all new accounts and significantly rationed existing accounts. It is almost impossible to get helium even if you need it for your business. And they are prioritizing medical (seems it is used in MRI applications), labs (superconductor cooling) and businesses first. We cannot purchase helium unless it is from someone who already has an account with a supplier and is willing to give us a some from their tightly rationed allocation. Yikes!

The cause of the shortage is twofold :

First, it turns out a An act called “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” set into motion the privatization of helium by selling off the national helium reserves by 2015. The reserves had been created as a result of a previous act in 1960 called the “Helium Acts Amendments of 1960” that required 5 private plants to recover helium from natural gas and resulted in the United States supplying up to 90% of the worlds helium. This program ran a deficit of 1.5 billion dollars by 1995 causing congress to review its ongoing feasibility. They decided it was time to privatize. However, it seems that because the government price fixes helium, private enterprise did not ramp up to meet demand (no economic benefit to doing so) as the reserves are depleted thus leaving us in this predicament. Moving forward in time, at this point the US only supplies 30% of the helium in the world and we are probably a year away from having a new plant in Wyoming going which will help with, but not solve, national supply issues.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill called the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012. It would extend the 2015 deadline for the sell-off of the Federal Helium Program and allow the federal government to continue supplying world markets with helium, selling it at market prices instead of government-set prices. It is possible that if that bill is not passed, the funding mechanism for the BLM’s helium operations will expire, leaving researchers and MRI manufacturers in the cold by the end of next year. Congress has taken no action on the bill since its introduction in April.

Second, for some reason plants that produce helium shut down during the summer when it is exceptionally hot. This is exacerbating the supply problem nationally. There are only two plants and one is closed. It seems the storage of Helium carries a high cost and there are just not facilities to stockpile enough helium outside of the BLM facility.

Who knew we would get a lesson in politics and economics for this project, yet here we are.

For those wanting to learn more:

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