NASA Aborts Launch, Closes Out 2022 NZ Campaign

WANAKA, New Zealand—NASA aborted the sixth launch attempt of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, Friday, May 27 (Thursday, May 26 in the United States) due to a ground support equipment issue.

Inflation operations began, but the brakes on a key piece of equipment that guides and feeds the balloon material during launch operations would not release. NASA will investigate the cause of the ground support equipment issue.

“Today’s launch abort was unfortunate and we will investigate the cause to prevent future, similar issues from occurring,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “While not the ending we were hoping for, I’m proud of the professionalism of our team in ensuring safe operations today and throughout the campaign.”

Today’s launch attempt was the final for the 2022 Wanaka Balloon Campaign. NASA will close out its Wanaka operations and set up for its next campaigns from Sweden and the United States. NASA is scheduled to return to Wanaka in 2023 for two planned super pressure balloon missions.

The 2022 Wanaka super pressure balloon campaign was the fourth in New Zealand since NASA began balloon operations there in 2015. Previous missions were conducted in 2015, 2016, and 2017—all test flights of the super pressure balloon technology.

From travel restrictions due to COVID-19 along with cargo shipping delays, the NASA team overcame a number of challenges for this year’s New Zealand campaign. While NASA was unable to launch this year, the campaign yielded some key successes. Most notably, NASA signed an important lease for hangar space at Wanaka Airport for upcoming super pressure balloon missions. In addition, NASA performed important maintenance and upkeep on its balloon launch pad at the Wanaka airport to ensure readiness for future missions. Throughout the campaign, the team participated in community outreach to share the importance of NASA’s balloon program in supporting science and technology missions that power discovery and innovation.

“We accomplished a lot during this campaign in further establishing our presence in Wanaka for future operations,” said Fairbrother. “I’m one to take the long view on things and I’m super optimistic for the way ahead—I’m looking forward to our return to Wanaka and hopefully with fewer challenges than what we had this year.”

NASA Postpones Balloon Launch; Sets Up For Final Attempt Friday in NZ

SPB Gondola
Technicians from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility inspect the gondola in preparation for a planned super pressure balloon attempt. (Credit: NASA/Bill Rodman)

WANAKA, New Zealand—NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, Thursday, May 26 (Wednesday, May 25 in the United States) due to unacceptable wind conditions.

Surface and upper-level winds were over 10 knots, which is well over the limits required to safely conduct launch operations.

“A high-pressure system that would have brought the exact wind conditions we need didn’t arrive in time for today’s launch attempt,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “At this time, it appears as though the high pressure will be well set up in the area for one final launch attempt for this year’s 2022 Wanaka Campaign.”

NASA has scheduled its sixth and final launch attempt for Friday, May 27 (Thursday, May 26 in the United States) from Wanaka Airport. NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Friday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. If weather and the predicted launch trajectory are conducive for launch, lift-off is scheduled between 8 and 11:30 a.m. locally (between 4 and 7:30 p.m. U.S. EDT Thursday, May 26).

If NASA is unable to launch its super pressure balloon Friday, the team will close out its 2022 Wanaka Campaign in order to meet the mission needs of other planned campaigns in Sweden and the United States. “We’re hopeful that everything will align for this final attempt,” said Fairbrother.

For those in the local area, the public won’t be allowed at Wanaka Airport on the morning of the launch attempt or to park alongside the airport. However, immediately after lift-off, the balloon will be visible for miles around – the best viewing points will be on the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Road or on the Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River.

In addition, the launch can be tracked in the following ways:

A live feed of the launch is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-downrange-operations

Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

Fifth Launch Attempt Scheduled for NASA Super Pressure Balloon

WANAKA, New Zealand—NASA is targeting Thursday, May 26 (Wednesday, May 25 in the United States), to conduct a super pressure balloon (SPB) test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a potential 100-day journey.

NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Thursday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. If weather is conducive for launch, lift-off is scheduled between 8 and 11:30 a.m. locally (between 4 and 7:30 p.m. U.S. EDT Wednesday, May 25).

At this time, forecast weather conditions are favorable for launch, however, the predicted launch flight trajectory is considered marginal.

This is the fifth scheduled launch attempt for NASA’s 2022 Wanaka Balloon Campaign. From high low-level winds to crosswinds and stratospheric winds at 110,000 feet (where the balloon will float), wind conditions have been unacceptable for each attempt thus far.

For those in the local area, the public won’t be allowed at Wanaka Airport on the morning of the launch attempt or to park alongside the airport. However, immediately after lift-off, the balloon will be visible for miles around – the best viewing points will be on the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Road or on the Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River.

In addition, the launch can be tracked in the following ways:

A live feed of the launch is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-downrange-operations

Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

Crosswinds Scrub Third Balloon Launch Attempt

Balloon Gondola
Technicians bring the balloon gondola back to its hangar after canceling a launch attempt May 13. NASA/Bill Rodman

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, Friday, May 13 (Thursday, May 12 in the United States) due to unacceptable wind conditions.

Today’s ground and lower-level winds were over limits and not aligned, which can create a shearing effect during launch operations.

Wind conditions at the surface level need to be light to facilitate work on the payload in the early morning as well as the launch itself. In addition, low-level winds up to 300 meters need to be light. The winds at both the surface and in the lower level need to be aligned in the same direction to support launch.

“One lesson well understood in the balloon community is that Mother Nature is in charge,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “And with that lesson, we’ve all become very good at practicing patience.”

NASA has no planned launch attempts over the weekend due to poor launch weather conditions. NASA will continue monitoring the weather daily and make its next announcement by 2 p.m. NZST (10 p.m. ET) if the next day’s weather will support a launch attempt.

NASA Schedules May 13 Balloon Launch Attempt

WANAKA, New Zealand—NASA is targeting Friday, May 13 (Thursday, May 12 in the United States), to conduct a super pressure balloon (SPB) test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a potential 100-day journey.

NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Friday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. If weather is conducive for launch, lift-off is scheduled between 8 and 11:30 a.m. locally (between 4 and 7:30 p.m. U.S. EDT Thursday, May 12).

At this time, forecast weather conditions and predicted flight trajectories are considered marginal for launch.

This is the third scheduled launch attempt for NASA’s 2022 Wanaka Balloon Campaign. The first attempt was canceled due to unacceptable low-level winds and the second attempt due to unacceptable stratospheric  wind conditions.

For those in the local area, the public won’t be allowed at Wanaka Airport on the morning of the launch attempt or to park alongside the airport. However, immediately after lift-off, the balloon will be visible for miles around – the best viewing points will be on the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Road or on the Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River.

In addition, the launch can be tracked in the following ways:

A live feed of the launch is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-downrange-operations 
Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

Balloon Launch Postponed May 12; NASA Evaluating Weather for Next Attempt

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, Thursday, May 12 (Wednesday, May 11 in the United States) due to unacceptable stratospheric weather conditions for operations.

Along with monitoring ground and lower-level winds (up to 300 meters) on launch day, stratospheric wind conditions at 33.5 km (110,000 feet), which is where the balloon will float, also need to set-up favorably to support a launch attempt. For today’s attempt the wind conditions would have taken the balloon on an unacceptable flight trajectory.

NASA will announce by 2 p.m. NZST (10 p.m. ET) if the next day’s forecast weather will support a launch attempt.

For those in the local area, the public won’t be allowed at Wanaka Airport on the morning of the launch attempt or to park alongside the airport. However, immediately after lift-off, the balloon will be visible for miles around – the best viewing points will be on the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Road or on the Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River.

In addition, the launch can be tracked in the following ways:

A live feed of the launch is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-downrange-operations 
Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

NASA Cancels First SPB Launch Attempt, Reschedules for May 12

Balloon Gondola
Technicians prepare to take the balloon payload out to the flight line May 11 for a launch attempt. NASA/Bill Rodman

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 11, (5 p.m., Tuesday, May 10 in U.S. EDT) due to unacceptable weather conditions for launch operations.

The team stepped through their launch actions taking the payload out to the flight line, laying out the balloon’s protective ground cloth and delivering the balloon to the flight line. Unfortunately, winds at lower-levels (at 250 meters) remained too high, preventing the team from moving forward with launch operations. In addition, a low cloud deck contributed to the decision to cancel for the day.

“I’m really proud of the team’s performance today for this first launch attempt,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “While the winds and clouds didn’t deliver the specific conditions we needed for launch, the overall attempt provided good practice for the team and we’re looking forward to our next opportunity.”

NASA is planning another launch attempt for Thursday, May 12 (Wednesday, May 11 in U.S. EDT).

NASA Balloon Launch Window Opens, First Attempt Scheduled

The window for NASA’s super pressure balloon (SPB) launch from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, opened Monday, May 9 (Tuesday, May 10 in New Zealand) for a mission that will take the 2.5-ton, football-stadium-sized balloon on a long-duration test flight.

At this time, NASA is planning a launch attempt for Tuesday, May 10 (Wednesday, May 11 in New Zealand)— the planned time for this launch attempt is 10 a.m. local New Zealand standard time (NZST).

“Our team has done an amazing job overcoming some massive logistical challenges and performing a number of check-outs on the balloon, gondola, and support instruments to get us to this point now where we’re ready for launch,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “From here, we just need Mother Nature to cooperate with the launch weather requirements we have to both ensure safety and mission success—I’m looking forward to this first launch attempt.”

For launch, winds need to be light and flowing in a reliable direction both at the surface and at low levels up to about 1,000 feet (300 meters). Winds flowing in opposite directions on the ground and lower levels could have a shearing effect on the balloon. In addition, NASA monitors for favorable stratospheric wind conditions at 110,000 feet (33.5 km), which is where the balloon will float.

For subsequent launch attempts, if needed, NASA will announce by 2 p.m. NZST (10 p.m. ET) if the next day’s forecast weather will support a launch attempt.

The launch can be tracked in the following ways:

The balloon team prepares the gondola ahead of the super pressure balloon test launch in Wanaka, New Zealand. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Rodman

After launch the 18.8-million-cubic-foot (532,000 cubic-meter) SPB will ascend to its float altitude where the stratospheric winds will propel it at speeds up to and exceeding 100 knots on a weeks-long journey around the southern hemisphere.

The primary goal of the flight is to validate and certify the SPB technology, and in particular, the balloon’s capability to pressurize at high altitudes. This ability to pressurize and maintain a consistent, pumpkin-like shape enables the balloon to float at a constant density altitude despite the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle. Without this pressurization, the helium gas inside the balloon would expand and contract through the day-night cycle, causing changes in buoyancy that ultimately lead to changes in altitude.

The science and engineering communities have previously identified long-duration balloon flights at constant altitudes as playing an important role in providing inexpensive access to the near-space environment for science and technology. NASA’s SPB flights from the southern hemisphere keep the balloon primarily over water and open airspace, which is key for achieving long-duration flight times upward of 100 days.

This launch is the fourth test launch from Wanaka Airport since NASA began balloon flight operations there in 2015.

COSI Launch
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload just prior to launch from Wanaka, New Zealand, on a NASA super pressure balloon in May 2016. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

NASA conducts SPB launches from New Zealand in collaboration with the Queenstown Airport Corporation, Queenstown Lake District Council, and Airways New Zealand. After this year’s flight, the team plans to return to Wanaka in 2023 for two super pressure balloon flights, each with its own dedicated science mission of opportunity.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. Peraton, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services, and field operations for NASA’s scientific balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 scientific balloons over some 40 years of operations.

For more information about NASA’s scientific balloon program, see: https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons.

Low Pressure System Thwarts Super Pressure Launch Efforts

The Extreme Universe Space Observatory-Super Pressure Balloon payload is picked up and prepared for flight during a launch attempt April 10 from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. NASA conducted three super pressure balloon launch attempts April 8 - 10 (New Zealand time), but had to stand down each day for various reasons related to weather, forecast trajectories, and maintenance. (NASA/Bill Rodman)
The International Extreme Universe Space Observatory-Super Pressure Balloon payload is picked up and prepared for flight during a launch attempt April 10 from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. NASA conducted three super pressure balloon launch attempts April 8 – 10 (New Zealand time), but had to stand down each day for various reasons related to weather, forecast trajectories, and maintenance. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Multiple areas of low pressure with associated precipitation and unfavorable winds have settled in over New Zealand preventing NASA from attempting a super pressure balloon launch from Wanaka over the next several days.

“Conditions do not look favorable for the next four to five days given the winds, forecast rain, and uncertainties with Tropical Cyclone Cook to the northwest of us,” said Chris Schwantes, NASA’s on-site meteorologist for the 2017 Wanaka Super Pressure Balloon Campaign. “However, forecast models currently show high pressure building up in the area after the Easter weekend, which could lead to favorable conditions for launching.”

Since declaring flight readiness March 25, NASA has conducted three launch attempts for its super pressure balloon.

The first of the three back-to-back attempts began April 8 (New Zealand time zone), ending early due to uncertainty with the balloon trajectory given forecast stratospheric wind conditions at 33.5 km (110,000 feet), the balloon’s planned float altitude. The second attempt, April 9, also ended early due to mechanical issues with NASA’s launch vehicle crane—issues that have since been resolved.

The third attempt progressed into the early morning hours of April 10 ending when surface and low-level winds failed to set up as required for launch.

“A lot of things need to go right to support a launch attempt, but only one thing needs to go wrong,” said Justin Marsh, campaign manager for the 2017 Wanaka Super Pressure Balloon Campaign. “Our team remains flight ready to support a launch attempt once the weather improves. All things considered, it’s still relatively early in the campaign.”