Computer systems, radiometers, millions of tiny steel ball bearings, stretch sensors, load pins, collars: you name it, it should be on Nasa’s super pressure balloon, ready for launch from from Wanaka Airport next week.
What looked like a giant bird’s nest of cables earlier this week will be transformed into something of stratospheric wonder, floating 33.5km above Earth.
Nasa balloon programme office chief Debbie Fairbrother said the plan was to test the balloon and a gondola full of equipment this week, ahead of the first launch attempt which was to be made next week.
Ms Fairbrother said the five public servants and 20 contracted technicians from the United States space agency were happy to be back in Wanaka after their last launch attempt was abandoned in 2020 because of Covid-19.
“It’s been very weird being able to see people [at work at Wanaka Airport]. I’ve been sitting at home for two years so I am enjoying being with real people,” Ms Fairbrother said.
Deputy project manager Caitlin Burth agreed.
The former engineering designer joined Nasa two years ago as technology manager and has had a meteoric rise in the organisation, to become Ms Fairbrother’s right-hand woman.
It was Ms Burth’s first time to New Zealand and she had found it a positive experience, despite spending a week in managed isolation and quarantine.
The big concern was that Covid could still ground the team and the balloon, so Nasa was taking precautions and would be doing community education work virtually, if possible.
Ms Fairbrother did an astronomical amount of Covid paperwork to get 39 team members staff depending on flights, each team member had had a different MIQ experience.
Some spent seven days in isolation at the border, others just three or four, and the most recent arrivals flew in without any restrictions.
Four containers of equipment finally arrived at the Alpine Helicopters hangar two weeks ago, after a long time in Panama.
Next week, weather permitting, the balloon and gondola will carry electronic, digital, solar, imaging and sensing equipment and ballast to study the performance of the balloon during inflation, launch, flight and landing.
The first launch attempt would be next week “at the earliest”, with the goal of finishing the project and leaving New Zealand by May 30.