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.