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NASA Super Pressure Balloon Launch

February 20, 2019 Airport No Comments Email Email

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.

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