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.”