Why Wanaka Works Well for NASA Balloons

A super pressure balloon is fully inflated and ready to launch. Photo: NASA

NASA blog - March 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm by Jeremy Eggers.

Why Wanaka Works Well for NASA Balloons

As the location for NASA’s long-duration, mid-latitude super pressure balloon missions, one might ask: Why Wanaka, New Zealand?

Six reasons come to mind: latitude, attitude, solitude, duration, weather and night.

Latitude Some science experiments need to observe phenomena in the sky at locations only accessible by launching mid-latitude balloon flights centered around 45 degrees south latitude. Wanaka Airport, at 44 degrees 43 minutes south latitude, is a near perfect location for these missions. In addition, the galactic center of the Milky Way, which is the focus for many science investigations, is only visible in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes.

Attitude The support from the local community and the airport staff make Wanaka an excellent place to launch. In addition, requirements for a launch location include access to a launch area such as a runway as well as access to heavy equipment, housing for staff, restaurants, support services, and more. While parts of New Zealand are remote, the easy access to all of these areas makes Wanaka an ideal place to launch.

Solitude From a flight safety perspective, it is much more desirable to fly over unpopulated areas. By launching into the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes from Wanaka, much of the balloon’s flight path is over water and the few potential land crossings are largely over sparsely populated areas.

Duration The key to flying long duration is to launch into the southern hemisphere’s stratospheric winter cyclone, a weather phenomenon that develops in the fall characterized by easterly winds that produce a clockwise stratospheric airflow about Antarctica on up to mid-latitudes. Wanaka’s location enables launches into the stratospheric cyclone during this time of year.

Weather Wanaka offers excellent weather conditions for NASA’s scientific balloon launches. Mornings are often characterized by light and variable winds during this time of year allowing for more potential launch opportunities.

Night NASA’s other long-duration balloon flight launch locations, Antarctica and Sweden, are conducive for operations in constant daylight. However, some science missions require nighttime observations, often for extended periods of time. The predictable diurnal cycles (day/night cycles) make Wanaka ideal for instruments that need nighttime for observations.  

Click for live updates: NASA balloon launch - Live updates | Wanaka Sun

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:

• A live feed of the launch is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-csbf-downrange-operations

• 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.n (asa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

• For mission status updates follow NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility social media accounts: www.facebook.com/NASAWFF and www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops


Flight Complete: NASA balloon sets record | Wanaka Sun (July 3, 2016)

NASA ready for Wanaka take off | Wanaka Sun (March 30, 2017)

NASA balloon launch - Live updates | Wanaka Sun (April 2017)

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