The Large Balloon Reflector Being Set Up For Launch
A new technology which aims to raise a telescope directly into space, nestled inside a balloon the size of a football field, has been in the works in 2014 but is now becoming a reality.
Christopher Walker, an astronomy professor and professor of optical sciences and electrical engineering at the University of Arizona, won Phase 2 funding from the program two years ago and is now seeing his concept come to life.
The large balloon reflector, as Walker named it, consist of an inflatable, half-aluminized spherical reflector inside a much larger stratospheric balloon. The outer balloon would also act as protection for the telescope once in position outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Walker said he hopes to launch the balloon to about 120,000 feet above Earth. It would act as a particularly powerful telescope, free from almost 99 percent of the atmospheric absorption that keeps telescopes on Earth from seeing certain wavelengths of light, which would allow the telescope to scan the universe in far infrared.
Measuring those wavelengths could help scientists not only see stars that already exist, but also pinpoint where new stars are likely to form, NASA officials said in a statement.
It could sense changes in the Earth’s atmosphere and greenhouse gases and eventually become a hub for telecommunication.
Instead of sitting back to watch his concept come to life, Walker and his team are now working on a space-based version of LBR, which he’s calling the Terahertz Space Telescope that would monitor space for the formation and evolution of galaxies. Once in space, the instrument would shed the large outer balloon and leave the balloon’s spherical reflector.
“It’s a tough road ahead, but we’ll keep pushing forward,” Walker said. “I’m hopeful I can get people motivated and excited about the concept … to think outside the box.”