On 27 March 2015, Wanaka Airport became the site of New Zealand’s first scientific space balloon launch.
NASA and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) launched a helium-filled space balloon as a trial to see whether Wanaka would be a suitable site to become part of its global scientific network. If the trial launch was deemed successful, future balloons would carry a payload of scientific equipment to help NASA’s investigations into the effects of cosmic rays on the atmosphere, the origins of the universe and the hunt for new planets.
The 2015 Wanaka launch was a success and the $1.6 million super pressure balloon flew for 32 days, 5 hours and 51 minutes before being brought down in a remote area of Australia.
The team returned in 2016 to once again launch a SPB from Wanaka. In addition to testing another SPB, the mission flew the University of California, Berkeley’s, Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload. COSI investigated longstanding mysteries of the universe, such as those surrounding the births and deaths of stars, positrons, pulsars and black holes. The SPB was successfully launched from Wanaka on May 17 2016 and flew for 46 days.
NASA launched its third super pressure balloon from Wanaka on Tuesday 25 April 2017 (ANZAC Day) to perform another flight test of its super pressure balloon. In addition, the balloon will this year fly the University of Chicago's Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO-SPB) payload as a mission of opportunity. To commemorate the day, NASA launched the balloon with a poppy attached in a nod to the ANZACs.
EUSO-SPB is a high-energy cosmic ray particle astrophysics payload that will test a fluorescence detector and its supporting technologies under the severe operating conditions of the stratosphere. This suborbital flight is a precursor for a mission being planned to launch the EUSO telescope to and install it on the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA also announced they will build a dedicated 600 metre diameter gravel launch pad for the 2017 launch. This will enable operations to run alongside normal airport operations on launch day and minimise the impact on users and operators. NASA has also confirmed its commitment to Wanaka as a launch site for up to the next ten years.
NASA completed its third mid-latitude Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) flight at 11:24 p.m. EDT, Saturday, May 6, after 12 days, 4 hours and 34 minutes aloft.
Flight controllers at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, conducted a controlled flight termination of the balloon, which slowly descended back to Earth impacting in the South Pacific Ocean about 200 miles south of Easter Island.
Click here to read the official media release on the completion of the 2017 launch.
Follow the University of Chicago's blog for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO - SPB)
NASA is a world-leading operator with a stringent health and safety plan and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility has a proven track record of safe launches, having successfully overseen more than 1,700 launches.
A small safety zone will be in place and reduced road closures will also be in place. This year Mt Barker Road will be open as usual throughout the launch and other road closures will be in place as per below for the launch.
Shortcut Rd, 2.2 kilometres from State Highway 6 (SH6)
Extended Delays: SH6 (Wanaka Luggate Highway - Detour via- Church Road, SH 8A, Kane Road, Camphill Road, SH 6 to SH 84 (Mt Iron).
Period of Closure: Saturday 25 March 2017 for a maximum period of one hour between 0700 and 1300. If launch is aborted the first day, the closures will be in place for the next appropriate launch day as per above.
Can the public watch the launch?
Immediately after lift-off the balloon will be visible for miles around - the best viewing points will be on the Hawea Flat side of the Clutha River, on Mt Iron or on the hill on the Hawea side of the Red Bridge by Kane Rd.
Wanaka launch, 25 April 2017
Wanaka launch, 17 May 2016
Wanaka launch, 27 March 2015
See the Wanaka launch as it happened:
Visit www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons for more information.