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NASA balloon set to launch in New Zealand

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 7/04/2017

NASA Super Pressure Balloon begins globetrotting journey, Wanaka Airport, New Zealand - 17 May 2016 © NASA/REX/Shutterstock/Rex Images NASA Super Pressure Balloon begins globetrotting journey, Wanaka Airport, New Zealand - 17 May 2016 NASA's latest super pressure balloon (SPB) is set for take-off from Wanaka Airport.

The purpose of the flight is to test and validate the balloon technology in so-called near-space.

If weather is conducive, lift-off is scheduled for between 8am and 11.30am on Saturday.

The balloon is about the size of the Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin, when fully inflated and is made from polyethylene film, similar to that used sandwich bags but is stronger and more durable.

Researchers hope the balloon will stay up for up to 100 days, setting a record.

The first balloon launched from Wanaka Airport in 2015 achieved 32 days of flight, with 46 days notched up in 2016.

The current record flight for such balloons is 54 days.

A special launch pad has been built.

"At this time, the weather at the ground and lower levels looks very good for a Saturday launch attempt," said Gabe Garde, mission manager for the 2017 Wanaka Balloon Campaign.

"However we continue to evaluate the forecast stratospheric winds and predicted flight trajectory to ensure conditions are acceptable before launch."

The University of Chicago has an extreme universe space observatory being tested on this year's flight.

NASA says it's working closely alongside Airways, New Zealand's air navigation service provider, to ensure minimal impact on normally scheduled aircraft operations and facilitate safe passage of the balloon through controlled airspace.

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