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NASA weather balloon returns to Wanaka

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 12/02/2017

NASA has joined forces with Wanaka and Queenstown airports to launch super balloons from the South Island for 10 years.

The American space agency will return to Wanaka in 2017 for its third super pressure balloon launch - and has committed to use the site as one of its global launch bases for up to 10 years.

"We're delighted that NASA has confirmed a 10-year arrangement to continue launches in Wanaka. They're now familiar faces in our community and it's great to have them back." Wanaka Airport operations manager Ralph Fegan said.

The 2017 launch is planned for late March or early April, but if last year's attempt is anything to go by, it may take a few tries.

On its fifth attempt in 2016, NASA managed to launch a huge super-pressure balloon (SPM) in Wanaka in May, after four previous goes were foiled by weather.

When it's launched, the new 532,000 cubic-meter SPB will get to an altitude of 33.5 km, where the stratospheric winds will propel it at speeds up to and exceeding 100 knots through the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle, on a weeks-long journey around the southern hemisphere.

Wanaka is an ideal location for launching SPB test flights, Nasa's Balloon Program Office chief Debbie Fairbrother said.

"With 32 days of flight in 2015 and 46 days in 2016, we hope to build on the successes and lessons learned of our past campaigns as we seek even longer duration flights at mid-latitudes."

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