ASTHROS Will Observe Wavelengths of Light While Hanging From A Balloon

ASTHROS Will Observe Wavelengths of Light While Hanging From A Balloon

"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", he added.

This illustration shows a high-altitude balloon ascending into the upper atmosphere.

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. Though the mission will still be well under the boundary of space (100 kilometers above Earth's surface), the altitude will be high enough for it to observe light wavelengths that are blocked by Earth's atmosphere.

NASA says that while balloons may seem low-tech compared to other space missions, the technology has several benefits over fuel-based deployments.

In just three short years, NASA will be sending a balloon 24.6 miles into the stratosphere above Antarctica that will serve as a tool to better study the cosmos, more specifically newly-formed stars, and even more specifically, the gas surrounding such astronomical objects. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, will start to integrate and test those subsystems in early August to ensure they work as intended.

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

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ASTHROS is short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths.

These factors allow the mission to take higher risks, which can open up new possibilities for NASA to use balloons in the field of future projects. But stellar feedback can also cause material to clump together, accelerating star formation.

'With ASTHROS, we're aiming to do astrophysics observations that have never been attempted before, ' said JPL engineer Jose Siles, project manager for ASTHROS.

A huge balloon that is as large as a football stadium can hold the ASTHROS telescope, which is about 8.4 feet tall. During flight, scientists will be able to precisely control the direction that the telescope points and download the data in real-time using satellite links.

Because far-infrared instruments need to be kept very cold, it will also include a cryocooler.

Past missions have carried liquid helium tanks to keep equipment cool, but they are heavier and usually limit how long a mission can last. It was only recently that the group finished the design for the telescope's payload. At the end of that time, operators will send a command to separate the balloon from the gondola, which will float back to Earth on a parachute for eventual reuse.

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