NASA confirms ten-year arrangement for super balloon launches at Wanaka Airport
Wanaka Airport Operations Manager Ralph Fegan today welcomed the news that NASA will return to Wanaka in 2017 for its third super pressure balloon launch, scheduled for late March/early April, and will be further committing to 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,” said Ralph. “They’re now familiar faces in our community and it’s great to have them back.”
Queenstown Airport, which manages Wanaka Airport on behalf of owner Queenstown Lakes District Council, has worked closely with NASA to secure the agreement which extends up to 10 years.
The agreement has paved the way for NASA to invest in a longer term base of operations and, subject to required consents and approvals, it will move to land on the north-east side of Wanaka Airport and create a dedicated balloon launch pad.
Queenstown Airport Chief Executive Colin Keel believes the new arrangement is testimony to the confidence NASA has in Wanaka.
“The opportunity for Wanaka to host NASA’s launches successfully in 2015 and 2016 was a real privilege and we’re thrilled that it’s culminated in the team making a long term commitment to invest in the region. The new agreement ensures that NASA will continue to play a significant part in the future of Wanaka’s economy and its vision of bringing benefits to the district by attracting economic investment and innovative businesses.”
In 2015 alone, the project brought significant economic benefits to both Wanaka and New Zealand injecting at least US$1.25 million directly into the regional and national economies.
More than 60 NASA operations specialists, senior managers and scientists have made Wanaka their temporary home over the last two years, with another 35-strong team expected for this year’s launch.
Members of NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team will begin arriving in Wanaka in February along with scientists from the University of Chicago's Extreme Universe Space Observatory.
“The team brings a little bit of America to Wanaka for a few months of the year and we’ve built solid friendships with them,” said Ralph.
“Every year they’ve immersed themselves fully into Wanaka life, visiting schools and other local groups to educate and inform the community. We’re incredibly lucky to have such a wealth of knowledge and experience benefit our town and we’re grateful to the NASA team and scientists for giving their time to support local groups,” he added.