Home Tech Innovative technology for observing space with hot air balloons – Sciencetimes

Innovative technology for observing space with hot air balloons – Sciencetimes

by news dir

The atmosphere surrounding the Earth is an essential condition for the survival of life, but it is a huge obstacle to the work of observing the universe. This is because it distorts the appearance of the celestial body as it interferes with the shaking of light as it passes through the atmosphere.

The telescope that was created to solve this problem is the ‘Space Telescope’. A space telescope refers to a telescope in which the telescope is floated like an artificial satellite in outer space rather than on the ground to observe celestial bodies. An example of this is the Hubble telescope launched in 1990.

The Hubble Telescope, the first space telescope

But there is a problem. The space telescope is superior to any other telescope on the ground in terms of observation clarity, but the cost of manufacturing and launch is too high. In addition, it is considered a disadvantage of the space telescope that it takes a considerable amount of time and money to repair it when it breaks down.

Astronomers from the United States and Canada gathered ideas to develop a new type of space telescope that can compensate for the shortcomings of these space telescopes. As a result, the launch cost was less than 0.1% of that of the existing space telescope, and it succeeded in developing a space telescope with close observational clarity. It is the ‘superBIT’ space observation system.

Astronomical telescope hanging from a giant helium balloon

Superbit refers to a set of space telescopes and accessories that can observe planets and galaxies while suspended from giant helium balloons. It is being developed by a joint research team of astronomers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The term ‘giant balloon’ is because the size of the helium balloon is so huge that it is beyond imagination. When the balloon rises to a certain altitude, it fully unfolds.

Since the size of the superbit on the ground is a balloon made of a thin and light material, it can be folded and stored like normal cloth if the helium is removed. Therefore, no matter how small the storage space, it can be stored sufficiently.

But once helium is injected into the balloon and begins to float, the story is different. When the balloon rises up to 40km, which is about 99% of the atmosphere, while the telescope is hung, it transforms into a balloon the size of a soccer stadium and helps the observation of the telescope.

Superbeat balloons grow to the size of a football field at high altitude. © nasa.gov

The telescope that flies into space while attached to a balloon is an astronomical telescope with an aperture of about 50 cm. Although it is much smaller than the 2.4m diameter of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Superbit is much more advantageous in terms of cost-effectiveness compared to the existing space telescope.

Observation at an altitude of 40 km has its own reasons. At this height, near the end of the atmosphere, there are few clouds or atmosphere to obstruct observations, so superbeats can make very sharp observations.

Superbeat balloons aren’t just big. The material is also different from the material used for conventional hot air balloons and uses a material for ultra-high pressure balloons. It is difficult to use for experiments because a general balloon bursts by pressure even if it rises a little high. As the altitude increases, the air becomes thinner and the external pressure decreases, so the inside of the balloon expands and bursts.

However, since Superbeat uses a recently developed ultra-high pressure balloon material, it can float stably at high altitudes. In particular, unlike other gases, the helium gas filled in the ultra-high pressure balloon maintains its original shape for several months.

As much as the superbit observes using balloons, it is significantly different from the existing space telescopes that use rockets to exit the atmosphere in terms of cost. The joint research team explained that the high-altitude balloon and astronomical telescope, and the cost of operating them, were only $5 million.

The best telescope with excellent cost-effectiveness for observational clarity at a low cost

Why is it that scientists at NASA and CSA want to observe the universe in an extraordinary way like the superbit? The main reason is that at high altitudes, there are few clouds or atmosphere to obstruct observation, so it is possible to observe the universe clearly.

If light that has traveled through space for billions of light years is momentarily distorted by the Earth’s atmosphere, it is a huge loss from a scientific point of view. Therefore, astronomers want to observe the image as it is, with as little distortion factors as possible.

Currently, the observation environment is not as good as that of the existing space telescopes, but it is expected that the Superbit will perform better than the Hubble Space Telescope as the technology is improved. For example, the diameter of the telescope is currently about 50 cm, but in the future, it is planned to expand it by 3 times to 150 cm.

Imagination of a superbit system that observes the universe while suspended from a balloon from a high altitude ⓒ utoronto.ca

Experts say that this size can compete with any other astronomical telescope on the ground in terms of clarity. It is predicted that the balloon telescope will have a big impact on the development model of the astronomical telescope in the future as the observation clarity is not inferior to that of the existing astronomical telescopes and the cost is much lower.

What is considered a competitive advantage of the superbit compared to the existing space telescope is that it can be repaired quickly. Existing space telescopes take a considerable amount of time because once launched, the same equipment must be used for decades, and technicians must be sent to space even if they fail.

However, the superbeat has the advantage of being able to apply the latest technology quickly and quickly because it is enough to control the balloon and land it on the ground, then repair the broken part and make it float again. According to the original plan, SuperBeat is expected to be launched in the second half of 2022.


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