Who doesn’t want to play (even a little part) in launching a super-sized balloon into near space, that has the purpose of furthering science?
NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team has been back in New Zealand for the past six weeks, and on Tuesday 17 May at 11.30am they successfully launched their super pressure 500 feet in diameter balloon! Just how big is that? Well, at cruise altitude the balloon will be about the size of Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr stadium – wow!
Tuesday was the culmination of months of planning – including working with a team of people from across Airways to plan the airspace logistics for the launch. We coordinated with NASA to determine the optimal launch time and on the day facilitated the safe passage of the balloon through controlled airspace.
This may sound simple, but behind the scenes this involves assessing scheduled air traffic, undertaking risk assessments and safety cases, understanding failure modes and procedures, notifying customers, and agreeing interactions, notifications and timings for launch day well ahead of time. This planning meant our Launch Coordinator and air traffic control team managed any launch reschedules seamlessly with NASA. On launch day our coordinator (Shailendra Pandaram – known as Panda to his colleagues) kept watch over the key stages of NASA’s launch and forecast the air traffic situation from the customer’s targeted trajectory and other parameters, so he was well prepared to safely enable the balloon’s launch.
This is the second time we’ve had the opportunity to work with the NASA team, alongside Wanaka Airport and many others, to launch a super-sized balloon. NASA launched its first balloon from Wanaka in March last year.
NASA praises Kiwi "can-do" attitude
The NASA team is a great, fun bunch of people who are easy to work with. I remember a NASA meeting where a picture of the launch site was shared on screen – people were stunned by the beautiful Wanaka scenery and asked if that was really the site! Dwayne Orr, CSBF’s Campaign Manager, said he also likes the “can-do" attitude of Kiwi’s – you can hear Dwayne talk about the collaboration with Airways in the below video.
The balloon is carrying a science payload that will investigate cosmic rays in the atmosphere and look into the Galactic Center.
This has been an exciting project to be a part of - well done to the NASA team! We look forward to a long-duration flight (100 days) and to seeing the team here again for the next launch.
Check out live updates of the balloon flight here on the NASA CSBF website.
NASA's Dwayne Orr on the collaboration with Airways