by Staff Writers
Tucson AZ (SPX) May 05, 2016
Decades ago when he was in grade school, Christopher Walker stepped outside with his father to see the NASA all-aluminized Echo balloon cross the nighttime sky in Earth's orbit. That early space spectacle stuck with him, he explains, and unknowingly, was a reflection on his future.
Fast forward several decades. Today, Walker is a professor of Astronomy and an associate professor of Optical Sciences and Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Walker's winning NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) Phase II proposal in 2014 investigated the prospect for a 33-foot - suborbital large balloon reflector, or LBR for short.
Scanning the universe
Looking down and out, the LBR's mission could involve Earth remote sensing by carrying out precision looks at the outer edge - or limb - of our planet and studying the atmosphere and greenhouse gases, Walker says. LBR has the capacity to become a hub to support telecommunication activities too, he adds.
But the looking up can clearly provide an astronomical plus. That is, by combining suborbital balloon and telescope technologies, this 33-foot class telescope would be free of roughly 99 percent of the Earth's atmospheric absorption - perfect for scanning the universe in the far-infrared.
Addressing key unknowns
"There was no place other than NIAC within NASA to get this off the ground," Walker admits. "To be honest, at first I was afraid to share the idea with colleagues because it may have sounded so crazy. You need a program within NASA that will actually look at the insane stuff...and NIAC is it."
Walker's early NIAC work centered on bringing the LBR concept to a technology readiness level of at least 2 or 3 in maturity, as well as addressing key unknowns, assumptions, risks, and paths forward.
Walker is now hard at work parlaying his NIAC Phase II research into development of a "space-based" version of LBR.
This space-based adaptation is dubbed the TeraHertz Space Telescope (TST). If deployed, the TST would be a telescope for probing the formation and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time.
The orbital version would shed the outer balloon, just leaving an inflated sphere. "You're not fighting gravity to make it spherical. It makes it structurally easier to achieve very high tolerance of 'sphere-isity,'" Walker adds. "In space the sphere can be radiatively cooled to very low temperatures, allowing a better view of the distant universe."
While buoyed by the TST idea and other possible applications, Walker is quick to add that technology readiness levels remain to be grappled with. Furthermore, he's fully aware that dollar resources are precious.
"This concept is different from the more traditional, costly approaches of building a telescope for space. It's a tough road ahead, but we'll keep pushing forward," Walker says. "I'm hopeful I can get people motivated and excited about the concept...to think outside the box," he explains.
Technology at NASA
Aerospace News at SpaceMart.com
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|