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.”

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: 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 97.0FM

Piggyback Payloads Flying on NASA’s Super Balloon

Weather update: No super pressure balloon launch attempt for Friday, April 8, due to poor weather; officials will meet Friday afternoon to determine if Saturday’s weather will support a launch attempt from Wanaka, New Zealand. (All dates are New Zealand).

The primary mission of NASA’s super pressure balloon (SPB) flight from Wanaka, New Zealand, is to test and validate the SPB technology itself with the goal of long-duration flight (100+ days) at mid-latitudes. While that mission is the main focus, a few other payloads are taking advantage of the remaining room on the gondola to piggyback a ride to the near-space environment.

Notably, we’ve discussed on this blog the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) gamma-ray telescope, an endeavor by the University of California, Berkeley, flying on the super pressure balloon. With long-duration flight in the southern hemisphere key to COSI’s success, Principal Investigator Steven Boggs explains how COSI will work in the video clip below.

In addition, Daniel Bowman, a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is flying a modified version of his Carolina Infrasound instrument. Infrasound is too low pitched for the human ear to detect, but the vast majority of the Earth’s natural soundscape lies in this frequency band. The small, three-kilogram payload consists of three infrasound microphones, a data logger, and power supply.

The Carolina Infrasound instrument previously flew on the High-Altitude Student Platform (HASP) mission, a student payload flight that launches from Fort Sumner, N.M., annually each fall on a NASA zero-pressure balloon. “Over the last two years, infrasound microphone arrays flown on the HASP have revealed a remarkably complex acoustic wave field in the stratosphere,” said Bowman. “While some of these signals are similar to those seen on ground-based arrays, others appear to be new to science.”

Recordings from Bowman’s infrasound microphones created quite a buzz in the press last year, with some referring to the sounds as eerie and “alien-like.” (An audio sample is available by clicking here.)

The Carolina Infrasound instrument
The Carolina Infrasound instrument is pictured here in its flight ready state on the super pressure balloon gondola. Each pair of tubes leads to pressure ports on the infrasound microphones; the ends of the tubes will be exposed to the ambient air during flight. Daniel Bowman, PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has conducted multiple studies of the acoustic wave field in the stratosphere flying infrasound microphones on NASA scientific balloon missions.

Infrasound measurements are made regularly on ground-based stations, but stratospheric acoustics is a relatively unexplored field: the last observations prior to the UNC HASP experiment occurred over half a century ago. Thus, the prospect of long-duration flights in the southern hemisphere could expand the envelope of Bowman’s infrasound studies previously conducted on HASP.

HASP balloon flights average around 24 hours, which means for instruments like Bowman’s, the amount of area covered is relatively small. In addition, there are challenges in discerning human-generated acoustic signals from those naturally occurring given the operational area of HASP flights. With a long-duration flight largely over water, Bowman hopes to probe a number of additional scientific questions, such as what is the acoustic wave field of the stratosphere in the lower southern hemisphere and how does topography and the diurnal cycle influence it.

Traveling Al, a native of Roswell, N.M., is seen flying atop a balloon gondola antenna boom during a test flight that launched from Fort Sumner, N.M., Oct. 10, 2015. Having flown just 11 hours and 27 minutes on that flight, Al is looking forward to traveling around the world on a long duration flight aboard NASA's super pressure balloon, launching from Wanaka, New Zealand.
Traveling Al, a native of Roswell, N.M., is seen flying atop a balloon gondola antenna boom during a test flight that launched from Fort Sumner, N.M., Oct. 10, 2015. Having flown just 11 hours and 27 minutes on that flight, Al is looking forward to traveling around the world on a long duration flight aboard NASA’s super pressure balloon, launching from Wanaka, New Zealand.

Finally, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility’s unofficial mascot Ali En (better known to the team as “Traveling Al”) is hitching a ride on this year’s super pressure balloon flight. A veteran of one previous balloon flight, Al is looking forward to a long-duration flight around the world. As the balloon circumnavigates the globe and traverses landmasses at mid-latitude, Al’s mission is to assure spotters they are seeing a NASA scientific balloon and not a UFO.