A new method of space observation is set to operate in the next 3 years. Developed from the womb of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, the ASTHROS (Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths) will detect light that has wavelengths invisible to the eyes.
The telescope will be situated from a massive balloon suspended in midair that is set to take off by December 2023 in Antarctica if all goes as planned. The target altitude for the balloon is 130,000 feet high, quadruple the height of commercial aircraft flight. It may not be within space altitude but it is able to detect the intended infrared light wavelengths that are disrupted by the atmosphere.
Final polishing has just recently been done for the entire cargo of the machine: the telescope, scientific instruments, electronic and cooling systems. JPL engineers will start assembly and testing by August.
NASA has had a Scientific Balloon Program in operation for over 30 years now with headquarters based in Virginia. As it lies between the ground and space-based missions, it has been conducting astrophysical observations without costing much. This branch of NASA program has made many headlines but has greatly contributed to the development of much of the agency’s astronomical studies, achieving 10 to 15 mission launches every year from all over the world.
These missions take less time and money in execution and yield significant results that can be used as a basis for future missions by new technologies. While it may pose an equally great risk like other programs being conducted, the cost isn’t that much. The ASTHROS project will serve as a testing and training ground for future missions, newly developed or upgraded technologies, and for the future engineers and scientists that NASA is molding.
Equipped with special devices, the ASTHROS is designed to observe and measure the gas movement surrounding star formation. In our own galaxy, there are two areas with detectable star formation activity. It will also determine the location of traces of nitrogen ions, which will lead to areas where stars and supernovas once met their demise.
Via stellar feedback, these celestial phenomenon spread space material that will delay or entirely prevent star formation. It can also hasten it. If the stellar feedback process didn’t exist, every material in space would just all form into stars. ASTHROS will generate vivid 3D maps of these movements across the galaxy to gain more understanding of this process and how it affects the expansion of the galaxy and the universe itself.
Project investigator Jorge Pineda, a JPL scientist said, "I think it's understood that stellar feedback is the main regulator of star formation throughout the universe's history.”
There still isn’t an accurate presentation of these cosmic events available. The results provided by the imaging and mapping feature of ASTHROS will help improve how we view such events and clarify the presentation we have of it.
The TW Hydrae, a newly born star in the midst of a gas environment with planetary formation potential, will also be observed by ASTHROS. Its mass will be measure and the density of it all throughout the area. This will show possible locations of planet formation.
The Giant Carrier
Aside from the telescope itself, other instruments such as a dish antenna, mirrors, panels, lenses, and detectors. The balloon that will carry ASTHROS will be pumped full of helium into a football stadium size. It will be the largest telescope yet to be launched on a balloon.
A cryocooler that will be powered by attached solar panels will keep the superconducting detectors at the optimal temperature of negative 451.3 degrees Fahrenheit. There will be another cooler that will regulate the temperature of the entire instrument that weighs slightly more than the cryocooler.
The winds in the earth’s stratosphere will steer the balloon to make two or three rotations around the South Pole for less than a month. After every mission, the gondola will detach from the balloon, sending the ASTHROS down to the ground for refurbishing or repairs for another mission.