NASA's going to study space with a football stadium-sized balloon

NASA to fly a football stadium-sized high-altitude balloon to study light from newborn stars

NASA is preparing to launch a new mission that involves studying the universe through a powerful telescope.

NASA plans to send an 8.4 foot telescope into the upper stratosphere aboard a "football stadium" sized balloon. The mission named Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths, or ASTHROS in short, will tentatively be launched by December 2023 from Antarctica.

ASTHROS will be able to observe light with wavelengths that are "much longer" than what we humans can see. According to NASA, it made a decision to go with a balloon-based mission due to the number of advantages it has over a space-based telescope project. Initial integration operations are planned for the following weeks, along with several tests.

Though balloons might appear "antiquated", NASA notes they provide benefits such as less expensive launch expenses. Talking about the mission, JPL engineer Jose Siles, a project manager for ASTHROS, says that though the balloon missions are at a higher-risk than space missions, they still yield high-rewards at lower costs. "The mission will pave the way for future space missions by testing new technologies and providing training for the next generation of engineers and scientists". Willie can be reached by email. He added that with the ASTHROS, scientists are aiming to accomplish some never-before astrophysics observations. ASTHROS will observe two regions in the Milky Way where stars are born. It'll also map the presence of two types of nitrogen ions, which can "reveal places where winds from massive stars and supernova explosions have reshaped the gas clouds within these star-forming regions", NASA said in a release.

In fact, NASA's Scientific Balloon Program has been around for 30 years and it is quite active, launching 10 to 15 missions a year.


In a process known as stellar feedback, such violent outbursts can, over millions of years, disperse the surrounding material and impede star formation or halt it altogether. Then again, heavenly input can likewise drive material to bunch together, accelerating star development.

The mission will study four main targets, including two star-forming regions in the Milky Way galaxy.

Researchers hope to gain a greater understanding of how stellar feedback works and to gain new information that will allow it to refine current computer simulations of galaxy evolution. A carrier below the balloon will hold the instruments and the telescope.

NASA unveiled its plans to launch a huge balloon attached to a telescope for examining stars and gases in the cosmos. Since far-infrared light can only be captured at extremely cold temperatures, the ASTHROS will also have a cryocooler which will keep the telescope at a temperature just above absolute zero. Once the mission is complete, operators will send a command to separate the balloon from the gondola, which will return to the ground on a parachute.

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