back to article We're not all about rockets, says NASA: Balloon tech is good enough for economical star scanning

NASA wants to lift a 2.5-metre-long, reusable far-infrared telescope into Earth’s stratosphere using a massive high-altitude balloon in 2023 to check out the heavens more economically. The mission, known as ASTHROS, short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High-spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter- …

  1. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge

    Tourist potential?

    Stratospheric cruise a lot cheaper than rockets, perhaps.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Tourist potential?

      Alas people need air pressure and somewhere sparse to land. Having skipped across a lake on a golf course after a short flight in a head burning balloon I can see a few problems with going 'all the way to the edge'.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Tourist potential?

        For the air pressure, sell 'em a space suit (and a diaper). For the landing, simply parachute the tourists out when they are within a half mile of the ground Antarctic Ocean. The folks adventurous enough to pay good money for this kind of thing will be happy to pay a little bit more (and suffer in the pretense of dignity) in their quest to kill themselves for the ultimate adrenaline high.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Tourist potential?

          Testosterone ravaged teenagers dont normally have that sort of money!

  2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Stability?

    Obviously the boffins know what they're doing, but how do they keep the platform stable? Or is there no wind or anything at that altitude to cause movement?

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Stability?

      More to the point, how does the telescope 'see' through the envelope? Down is the only clear field.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Stability?

        It looks sideways, same as SOFIA.

        Between 5° down and 65° up.

        The pointing stability sounds hard to me. Balloon payloads tend to spin and sway. How are they aiming it?

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Stability?

          You could say the same for space telescopes! Gyroscopes and hanging from above the centre of mass via a free swivel would do the job. Parallax is not likely to be a problem in the short term.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: Stability?

            Satellites are in a much better vacuum, and usually aren't on a long tether.

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: Stability?

              Just to clarify - I have every confidence that NASA do know what they're doing.

              I'm just really interested in learning how they're doing it :)

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Stability?

                Wait and see the results - I have a feeling they are certainly on to something here. I dont think there are many areas of turbulence in the stratosphere to worry about. OK noctoluminescent clouds show waves and stuff but if you watch them for as long as you can they are pretty stable and dont seem to move fast enough to be of any concern - FFS even I can take a smooth video of someone across the pub after 15 pints holding a phone by the edges so I can imagine a 2.5m scope with NASA tech on it is going to miss a photon of its target unless a meteorite or bloody space tourist gets in the way.

              2. TeeCee Gold badge
                Coat

                Re: Stability?

                It's a balloon.

                It's not exactly rocket science you know.

                1. lglethal Silver badge
                  Go

                  Re: Stability?

                  This isnt a particularly new technique for space work (well maybe for NASA), but DLR (the German Space Agency) and the Swedish Space Agency have been running BEXUS (Balloon Experiments for University Students) since 2007.

                  OK BEXUS isnt so long lasting (its a day trip to ~30km), but it is aimed at Uni Students (and with the budget to match). There's quite a history of balloon based space research, it is signifcantly cheaper than rockets, and for a lot of things works just as well, as being all the way up.

                  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                    Re: Stability?

                    Long infrared is normally background limited so you take a bunch of shorter exposures, hope the background is more random than the source and do a bunch of clever stats.

                    there isn't the same need to keep locked on a single target for hours as in bands where you are readout noise limited.

  3. werdsmith Silver badge

    What a spooky jellyfish like object in the image.

    Great thing about HAB flights is ordinary people can get involved for far less cash than it costs for rocketry.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Yeh but nowhere near as spectacular! I'm in a dark skies area of the west country but I miss the odd Sunday in a field in Cambridgeshire sending my hard earned wages a few thousand feet on a tower of flame and noise.

  4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Boffin

    No mention of ...

    No mention of how this expensive and relatively delicate telescope will be recovered for it's potential future re-use. Will they just be hoping it will land somewhere accessible, do they have enough control to bring it down somewhere soft (not water!) or have they some sort of flying collection plan to pluck it from the sir? That sounds like it might be some interesting tech or engineering.

    1. Peter Clarke 1

      Re: No mention of ...

      A C-130 with Fulton recovery System???

  5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Again, poor backronym choice, and no respect for Paris!

    Pursuing

    Astrophysical

    Research

    In

    Space

    !

  6. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Cool

    The mission will also make use of electric cooling ... will use power from solar panels
    Thermoelectrics, under utilised after all these years. I used to charge my phone from my stove.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Cool

      "I used to charge my phone from my stove."

      Wow. Thats an... inefficient... way to charge your phone. I sincerely hope you weren't turning on your stove JUST to charge your phone. If you were cooking something else and just using the excess to charge you're phone fine, but turning heat into electricity anywhere outside of an actual power plant is hugely inefficient and wasteful...

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Cool

        I run a wood burner in winter and use a stovetop fan to help circulate the hot air, that is the Seebeck effect, I suspect Danny has a similar stove using the same effect to charge his phone.

        The reverse is the Peltier effect for cooling, far less efficient than conventional refrigeration but needs no compressor and liquid filled heat exchanger.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Cool

      Probably not thermoelectric - they don't work well at cryogenic temperatures.

      More likely a fridge - ie a Stirling (or GM) cycle cooler

  7. devTrail Bronze badge

    Hydrogen or Helium?

    To stay afloat in the thin atmosphere it will find at the height of 40 KM the gas in the balloon will have to be very light indeed. What are they going to use?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hydrogen or Helium?

      The balloon altitude record is 53 km so 40 km is probably relatively do-able, but my half-arsed googling couldn't discover what gas they used...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hydrogen or Helium?

        It will use Helium. Your googling was really hardly half-arsed - more like quarter-arsed - given it says so in the press release linked from the El Reg article. I was more intrigued by the idea that a balloon is 'higher risk' than a spacecraft - but that turns out to be awkward phrasing - what NAS have said is that you can afford to fly more technologically risky cutting-edge kit on a balloon, not that balloons pose particularly high risks of explosive disassembly

  8. WereWoof

    Balloons?

    Will they be red? Will there be 99 of them?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Balloons?

      Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All

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