Up, Up, and Away! NASA Launches Globetrotting Super Balloon

Groundtrack
The ground track of NASA’s super pressure balloon is shown here just three hours into flight, lifting off from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 7:35 p.m. (EDT) Monday, May 16, flying eastward before cutting northwest.

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA successfully launched a super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, (7:35 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16) on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight.

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. In addition, the gondola is carrying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) gamma-ray telescope as a mission of opportunity.

“The team performed a brilliant launch operation today,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The balloon is pressurized, healthy, and well on its way for this important test mission. I’m extremely proud of our Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team for yet another beautiful launch, and I’m thankful for the tremendous support from our Kiwi friends, particularly the phenomenal Wanaka Airport staff.”

Two hours and 8 minutes after lift-off, the 532,000-cubic-meter (18.8-million-cubic-foot) balloon reached its operational float altitude of 33.5 kilometers (110,000 feet) flying a trajectory taking it initially westward through southern Australia before entering into the eastward flowing winter stratospheric cyclone. 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.

“The successful launch demonstrates the value of an experienced scientific ballooning team and represents a partner NASA can count on,” said John Pullen, vice president and general manager, Technical Services Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The NASA/Orbital ATK’s CSBF Team executed flawlessly on the mission and reinforced Wallops Flight Facility’s position as the world leader in scientific ballooning operations.”

Super Pressure Balloon at launch
NASA’s super pressure balloon is seen here just before lift-off May 17 with the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload seen in the foreground. The balloon lifted off at 11:35 a.m. May 17 from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

This launch marks the beginning of the second SPB flight for COSI, which was 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 North 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.

It was the fifth launch attempt for the team; previous attempts were scrubbed due to weather conditions not conducive for launch. NASA’s balloon experts at CSBF, and at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, will monitor and control balloon flight operations throughout the mission. In the meantime, NASA’s balloon team in Wanaka will begin closing down on-site campaign operations, which have been ongoing since February.

“We’re absolutely delighted to see NASA’s visit culminate in another successful launch,” said Ralph Fegan, Wanaka Airport operations manager. “The project has provided fantastic exposure for our region and New Zealand to date and this launch has helped us consolidate our relationship with NASA and its global balloon program. It’s been a pleasure to welcome the team back again and we’re very grateful to our airport users, neighbors and the wider community for their ongoing support.”

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. The current record for a NASA super pressure balloon flight is 54 days

As the balloon travels around the Earth, it may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, to those who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa. Anyone may track the progress of the flight, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at:
http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

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

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. Orbital ATK, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, 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 in the over 35 years of operation.

For more information on the balloon program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons

Super Pressure Balloon Launch Attempt Underway

NASA is targeting 7 p.m., Monday, May 16, (11 a.m., Tuesday, May 17, in New Zealand) to launch its super pressure balloon on a globetrotting, potentially 100-day test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand.

This is the fifth launch attempt for the balloon team.

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: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm
· For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts (#superballoon): www.facebook.com/NASAWFF and www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops
· For launch updates follow on Wanaka Airport’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/WanakaAirport

El Niño weather continues to delay NASA’s super pressure balloon launch

NASA will not attempt a balloon launch tomorrow, Sunday, 15 May (all times in New Zealand time), due to unacceptable forecast launch weather conditions.

Officials will continue to evaluate the weather conditions for an optimal launch window. A status update for Monday, 16 May, will be given by 2 pm Sunday (15 May).

“The data continues to show a very unusual weather period for this area both on the surface and in the stratosphere,” said Robert Mullenax, meteorologist for NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon team.

Wanaka typically offers a very high probability for weather conditions conducive for launching NASA’s scientific balloons. Still, it is not uncommon for any of NASA’s worldwide launch sites to hit a patch of bad weather that results in postponed launch attempts. “The issue for this campaign…for this year…is more focused around the impacts of the El Niño weather pattern, which is also impacting weather globally,” said Mullenax. “The weather issues we are seeing this year are largely attributable to El Niño.”

NASA will continue to evaluate weather conditions at least through May 31 for conditions conducive for conducting launch operations.

Weather postpones fourth super pressure balloon launch attempt

Mother Nature continues to flex her muscles and throw us some jabs down in New Zealand; NASA’s scheduled super pressure balloon (SPB) launch attempt for today, May 6 (May 7 in New Zealand) has been postponed again due to poor weather.

“The high pressure system that was looking like it would help keep low-level winds down has dissipated creating unacceptable conditions for launch,” said Janet Letchworth, NASA’s mission manager for the SPB campaign. “Tomorrow’s weather is unacceptable for launch due to strong forecast winds. We’ll continue to evaluate conditions to see if Sunday’s (May 8) weather (Monday, May 9, in New Zealand) could support a launch attempt.”

Super Pressure Balloon team to make third launch attempt

SPB Launch Operations
NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon Team works launch operations during the second launch attempt from Wanaka, New Zealand. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Operations Update: NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 27 (April 26 at 3:30 p.m. in Eastern time), due to unacceptable weather conditions for launch operations.

The team brought the payload out to the flight line and laid out the balloon’s protective ground cloth; however, low-level winds remained too high, preventing the team from moving forward with launch operations.

“It was a complex weather pattern today,” said Janet Letchworth, NASA’s mission manager for the Wanaka SPB campaign. “The models were showing conditions would turn favorable by launch time, but our real-time measurements on the ground showed otherwise, leading to today’s cancellation.”

Original Post: NASA is targeting Wednesday, April 27 (Tuesday, April 26 in Eastern Time), to conduct a super pressure balloon (SPB) test flight launching from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, on a potentially 100-day journey.

NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Tuesday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. The estimated launch window (if not cancelled) is between 9 and 11 a.m. locally (between 5 and 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 26).

Officials are closely monitoring wind speed and direction at the ground and lower levels. This is third time the team has turned out for a launch attempt; the previous two attempts were called off due to wind conditions.

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: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-ldsd
· For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts (#superballoon): www.facebook.com/NASAWFF and www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops
· For launch updates follow on Wanaka Airport’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/WanakaAirport
· For the live broadcast from Wanaka Airport tune in to Radio Wanaka 97.0FM.

Sunrise at Wanaka Airport
The sun rises at Wanaka Airport as NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon Team prepares for launch. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

NASA Postpones Super Pressure Balloon Launch

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, (3:30 p.m., Monday, April 19 in EDT) due to unacceptable weather conditions for launch operations.

The team brought the payload out to the flight line, laid out the balloon’s protective ground cloth and took the balloon out to the flight line. However, winds at lower-levels (at 250 meters) remained too high, preventing the team from moving forward with launch operations.

“We were close today,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “It’s unfortunate but not unusual; we’ll be ready when Mother Nature is.”

NASA will announce by 2 p.m. today (Tuesday, April 19) whether or not Wednesday’s weather will support a launch attempt. At this time, Thursday’s weather is looking more favorable for a potential launch attempt.

NASA targeting April 19 for super pressure balloon launch attempt

SPB Launch Panorama
A panoramic photo of the 2015 super pressure balloon launch from Wanaka, NZ.

NASA is targeting Tuesday, April 19 (Monday, April 18 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 aligned for an early launch attempt; officials are watching trajectory projections closely.

NASA will begin flight preparations in the early morning hours Tuesday and will continue to evaluate real-time and forecast weather conditions throughout the morning. Lift-off is scheduled between 8 and 10 a.m. locally (between 4 and 6 p.m. EDT Monday, April 18).

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: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm
• For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts (#superballoon): www.facebook.com/NASAWFF and www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops
• For launch updates follow on Wanaka Airport’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/WanakaAirport
• For the live broadcast from Wanaka Airport tune in to Radio Wanaka 97.0 FM

SPB team
The super pressure balloon team discusses launch day actions and procedures during a recent meeting. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

 

Balloon Team Continues to Wait on Weather

COSI payload
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager payload stands flight ready in a Wanaka Airport hangar.

While local weather in Wanaka, New Zealand, is almost always lovely for locals and visitors alike, NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon team continues to evaluate multiple weather conditions, all of which need to align before moving into a launch attempt.

Wind conditions at the surface level need to be light in order to facilitate work on the payload in the early morning as well as the launch itself. In addition, low-level winds up to 250 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.

Additionally, stratospheric conditions at 33.5 kilometers need to be set up so that the balloon launches into the winter stratospheric cyclone.

Weather throughout the week has not supported a good launch attempt for the program and weekend weather has shaped up similarly. Saturday’s (16 April) forecast is calling for strong low-level winds and Sunday’s (17 April) forecast shows strong shifting winds and precipitation. As such, the waiting game continues.

It’s not unusual for the program to wait multiple days and weeks for weather conditions to set up. “We have the utmost respect for Mother Nature,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “When the conditions are right, we’ll be ready to launch.”

Super balloon flight ready; waiting on weather

Balloon Flightline
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) balloon payload is seen on the far right attached to the launcher vehicle during Saturday’s (9 April) super pressure balloon launch attempt from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. The helium tanks for inflating the 532,000-cubic-meter balloon are seen on the left. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

NASA’s super pressure balloon team remains flight ready in Wanaka, New Zealand, waiting for weather conditions to set up that will support a launch attempt.

The team began working a launch attempt Saturday, April 9, however the winds did not set up in a direction that would facilitate laying out the 250-meter balloon flight train in preparation for launch. High low-level winds Sunday and forecast precipitation Monday further prevented launch attempts. NASA will make a decision Monday whether or not Tuesday’s forecast could support a launch attempt.

COSI payload on the flightline
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) balloon payload is rolled out of the hangar in preparation for a launch attempt April 9. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

In the meantime, the team is rested and ready to support a launch attempt once weather improves. “So much work goes into achieving flight readiness status, and I’m proud of the combined team from our Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, the science team, and our local officials on the ground for getting us to this point,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The next move belongs to Mother Nature. Once she cooperates, we’ll be working to take to the Wanaka skies once again.”

NASA Postpones Super Pressure Balloon Launch

COSI payload returns from flight line
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload returns from the flight line after officials postponed a super pressure balloon launch attempt Saturday, April 9, due to weather.

WANAKA, New Zealand – NASA postponed the scheduled launch of its super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, April 9 (New Zealand time) due to unacceptable weather conditions for operations.

Launch preparations began at midnight by mounting the payload’s solar arrays and attaching the gondola to the bottom of the flight train. However, winds at the ground level and at 250 meters failed to align in the direction required for laying out the balloon preventing the team from moving forward with launch procedures.

“We knew going into today’s attempt that the winds were marginal, and unfortunately, they just didn’t set up for us in a way that would support launching,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief.

NASA will announce by 2 p.m. Saturday whether or not Sunday’s weather will support a launch attempt.

“It’s the nature of the business,” said Dwayne Orr, SPB campaign manager at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. “It’s not uncommon to wait weeks for weather conditions to set up in a way favorable for balloon operations. We’re a patient bunch; we’re prepared to wait out the weather at least through the end of April and potentially longer if we need to.”