Aerial view of the Nova Ponte airfield (courtesy of ilton B. Renó)

Nova Ponte is a small town of the so called "mineirian triangle" located in the western part of the Minas Gerais state, in the center of the country. It have a small airfield with a paved strip and basic infrastructure.

There in 2003 the Balloon Launch Sector (Setor de Lançamento de Balões -SLB- from Brazil's space agency INPE (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) carried out a launch campaign devoted to put in the stratosphere the most important astrophysical experiment developed in the country in the last ten years: the MASCO coded mask telescope.

With an overall weight nearing the two tons, the main objective of the telescope was to make observations of gamma and x-rays coming from distant cosmic bodies like black holes and neutron stars situated in the center of the Milky Way.

The campaign -delayed several times since 2001 due to weather issues- started in 2003 but finally was not finished due to a mechanical failure in the balloon/payload separation device detected minutes before the launch. Nevertheless, in April 2004 the MASCO telescope was flown and the campaign, this time was completed succesfully.

Besides the fact that the airport still is mentioned by the agency among the several bases available for balloon launches at the moment, we don't know if the site will be used again for this purpose in the near future.

Details of the two balloon launches from Nova Ponte

DateHourFlight DurationExperimentPayload landing place or cause of the failure
12/18/2003 ---MASCO (Telescopio de Mascara Codificada)No flight
4/1/20042:04 local~ 12 hMASCO (Telescopio de Mascara Codificada)In a farm in Capinópolis (Minas Gerais state near the border of the Goias and Mato Grosso do Sul states).

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