A stadium-sized helium balloon is going to be used to lift up the next telescope that NASA and the Canadian space agency want to send to the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere, as per a report by Gizmodo. The telescope is said to be the successor to the Hubble telescope and is named the Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope or SuperBIT in short. It has been designed by the University of Toronto, Princeton University and Durham University in England together, in conjunction with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency and is scheduled to be launched from New Zealand in March 2022. The balloon-borne telescope can stay in the stratosphere for weeks and even months.
Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope: The purpose
The SuperBIT’s main purpose is “to provide insight into the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters and throughout the large scale structure of the universe.”, says a University of Toronto website post. A helium balloon with a volume of 532,000 cubic metres is going to lift the SuperBIT 25 miles up into the sky. It cost about $5 million to build the telescope. One of the perceived benefits of SuperBIT is its advantage in not getting affected by weather changes like overcast conditions at night or smog caused due to some forest fire as it will be situated in the stratosphere, above the troposphere, and hence, will be mostly clear of and unaffected by the weather conditions as most of the weather activity happens in the troposphere. The SuperBIT will charge with the help of the solar panels designed in its structure, image at night and thus circumnavigate the globe.
Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope: Why the need?
The report quotes a SuperBIT team member Mohamed Shaaban as saying that the Hubble telescope is aging and is also oversubscribed, which means it has more work orders coming in than it can complete. Hence the need for new telescopes that could support the Hubble in observing space arose.
As per the report, a telescope with an optical system three times the size of SuperBIT is also in the works. It will be called GigaBIT and is expected to undergo the first test flight in September 2022. The Euclid telescope by the European Space Agency is also scheduled for a launch next year.