27 Mar 2015

More balloon launches likely - NASA

5:58 pm on 27 March 2015

After a fortnight of waiting for the right conditions, NASA today successfully launched a huge balloon from Wanaka Airport.

The balloon being inflated at Wanaka Airport

The balloon being inflated at Wanaka Airport. Photo: SUPPLIED

There were claps and cheers as the helium-filled test balloon and the payload it was carrying were set free.

The balloon launch in Wanaka

The balloon and its payload take off. Photo: SUPPLIED

NASA's balloon programme chief Debbie Fairbrother said it was a highly successful launch and it was very likely Wanaka would become a regular launch site.

The balloon has reached its cruise height of 33 kilometres and pressurised, and is heading toward the east coast of the South Island as planned.

Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Lyal Cocks said hosting regular launches would be economically beneficial to Wanaka.

"Wanaka is put up on the world map for a totally different group of people - the scientific-type world," he said.

"It'll bring a lot of people here who'll be coming to stay here, enjoy our town, enjoy our district. They'll be living here, spending money here.

"We're in an ideal environment for people like scientists to work and set up their equipment."

Mr Cocks said NASA has already installed ultra-fast broadband at Wanaka Airport.

Goal to stay high

Earlier, people in houses near the airport were told to take cover and the road past the airport was closed.

An aim of this operation is to keep the balloon in the air for as long as possible, and ideally its maximum time of 100 days, when it will be landed in South America.

The balloons - which can carry the weight of three small cars - are used to carry universities' space exploration equipment to the stratosphere.

The NASA crew has been on standby in Wanaka waiting for ideal conditions to launch the balloon.

Today's launch is a test run for launching further NASA balloons from this latitude.

The balloon launch in Wanaka

Today's test run - likely to be the first of many such launches. Photo: SUPPLIED

The NASA  balloon successfully launches from  Wanaka.

The ballooon's cruising height is 33 kilometres. Photo: RNZ / Jessica Maddock

The balloon being inflated at Wanaka Airport

A second shot of the balloon being inflated. Photo: RNZ / Jessica Maddock

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