NASA has announced plans to release a giant balloon into the Earth’s stratosphere as part of its mission to study the space around the earth. According to reports, the balloon is about the size of a football field, officials said it is large enough to carry an 8.4-foot telescope to the edge of space. NASA plans to use the telescope, called ASTHROS, to study certain wavelengths of light.
The ASTHROS telescope is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lab explained that the special telescope was able to observe the wavelength of light in the stratosphere that is not visible from the Earth’s surface. The telescope can observe far-infrared light, but only if it’s about four times larger than a normal plane — that’s what balloons do.
The giant balloon, like a jellyfish, will float about 62 miles above the Earth’s surface. There are many benefits to using balloons, and in fact, NASA has been working on a science balloon program for 30 years. Balloons are much cheaper than a typical machine-based space mission, and it doesn’t take that long to plan and launch missions.
The downside is that the use of balloons carries greater risks than typical space missions — they are vulnerable to debris such as stray debris and can damage them. When fully inflated, the helium balloon is about 400 feet in diameter; it carries a crane used to transport telescope components. The wind in the stratosphere will carry balloons, which will take nearly a month to circle the South Pole.
NASA aims to launch the balloon from Antarctica in December 2023. The space agency said Thursday, however, that goal could change in the coming years. ASTHROS project manager JPL engineer Jose Siles said.
With ASTHROS, our goal is to make astrophysical observations that have never been attempted before. 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.