NASA to Launch Telescope aboard Football Stadium-size Balloon to Study Cosmos

Human eye cannot see all the light in space because of their high wavelengths. In order to observe wavelengths that are not visible from the ground, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working on a mission that will take an 8.4-foot telescope high into the stratosphere. The telescope will be sent onboard a football stadium-size balloon.

The mission is named Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths (ASTHROS). It is being managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and scheduled to blast off from Antarctica in December 2023.

To observe far-infrared light, ASTHROS will be required to reach an altitude of about 130,000 feet or 24.6 miles, the height is roughly four times at which commercial airliners fly.

However, this height is well below the boundary of space, which is 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

NASA has chosen this balloon mission not only because of its low cost as compared to space missions, but also due to shorter time span between early planning and deployment.

“Balloon missions like ASTHROS are higher-risk than space missions but yield high-rewards at modest cost,” said JPL engineer Jose Siles, project manager for the mission.

The Balloon will contain an instrument to measure the motion and speed of gas around newly-formed stars. It will also carry a cryocooler to keep instruments very cool.

ASTHROS will also notice and map the presence of two specific types of nitrogen ions for the first time. These ions are expected to divulge “places where winds from massive stars and supernova explosions have reshaped the gas clouds within these star-forming regions.”

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