NASA schedules super pressure balloon launch attempt

Balloon Gondola Hang Test
A NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility technician performs work during a balloon gondola compatibility test in Wanaka, New Zealand. (NASA/Dave Helfrich)

NASA is targeting Saturday, April 9 (Friday, April 8 in Eastern Time), to conduct a super pressure balloon (SPB) test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a potentially 100-day journey.

Forecast surface and low-level winds are currently marginal for supporting a launch attempt.

NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Saturday 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. EDT Friday, April 8).

“While conditions are marginal, a slight shift in the weather pattern could put us in the zone,” said Dwayne Orr, campaign manager with NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.

The purpose of the flight is to test and validate the SPB technology with the goal of long-duration flight (100+ days) at mid-latitudes. Once launched, the 532,000-cubic-meter (18.8-million-cubic-foot) balloon will ascend to an operational float altitude of 33.5 kilometers (110,000 feet) flying an eastward trajectory. NASA estimates the balloon will circumnavigate the globe about the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

This launch is NASA’s second super pressure balloon mission from Wanaka; the first launch occurred March 27, 2015, flying 32 days, 5 hours, and 51 minutes in the most rigorous test environment flown by an SPB to date.

Flying as a mission of opportunity on this year’s flight is the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), a gamma-ray telescope developed by the University of California, Berkeley. COSI is a NASA-funded mission designed to probe the mysterious origins of galactic positrons, study the creation of new elements in the galaxy, and perform pioneering studies of gamma-ray bursts and black holes. Long-duration flights are vital to these types of studies.

Another mission of opportunity is the Carolina Infrasound instrument, a small, 3-kilogram payload with infrasound microphones designed to record acoustic wave field activity in the stratosphere. Developed by the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, previous balloon flights of the instrument have recorded low-frequency sounds in the stratosphere, some of which are believed to be new to science.

NASA’s scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for conducting scientific investigations in fields such as astrophysics, heliophysics and atmospheric research.

Launch Viewing Information

Wanaka Airport officials advise that local residents and visitors will have the best vantage points for the launch from:
• The Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River
• Atop Mount Iron
• On the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Rd.

The launch can be tracked in the following ways:
• Track the progress of the flight at the following link, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at:
• For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts (#superballoon): and
• For launch updates follow on Wanaka Airport’s Facebook page
• For the live broadcast from Wanaka Airport tune in to Radio Wanaka 97.0FM