A new NASA mission is in the works, and the objectives are quite interesting. The agency plans to send a compact 8.4 feet (or 2.5 meters) telescope into the stratosphere with the help of a massive balloon.
Known under the name of ASTHROS (which is short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths), the telescope should be launched from Antarctica in December 2023. It will drift with the help of hot air currents for several weeks and may achieve notable milestones as it travels.
ASTHROS will be able to observe far-infrared light, which has a wavelength that is considerably longer in comparison to what the naked eye can perceive. The telescope will have to reach an altitude of 130,000 feet (or 40 kilometers), which is proper for measurements but approximately two thirds below the boundary for space.
At this point, the team responsible for the mission is putting the final touches on the payload, which includes the telescope, a science instrument, and several main and auxiliary systems that are required for proper functioning. Initial integration operations are planned for the following weeks, along with several tests.
Floating with balloons
Balloons may seem to be a bit outdated at first sight, but they are quite useful and very popular at NASA, as the Scientific Balloon Program has been around for more than 30 years, and there are no signs which could suggest that it will slowdown in the future.
There are several advantages offered by the use of balloons, including lower costs and shorter wait times between the planning stage and deployment. They are often used to test bleeding-edge tech that hasn’t been sent to space, allowing the safe pursuit on high-risk missions.
If everything goes according to plan, ASTHROS will provide new observations that could pave the way for future missions.