Feeds

NASA promises balloon ride and über precise 'scope pointer for planet-gazing boffins

'Track a dime at two miles' with the Wallops Arc Second Pointer

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

NASA has come up with a new pointing system named WASP (Wallops Arc Second Pointer) which gets planetary scientists closer to their target worlds.

The Wallops Arc Second Pointer (WASP) payload suspended from a crane during a test deployment

The Wallops Arc Second Pointer (WASP) payload suspended from a crane during a test deployment. Credit: NASA

Most astroboffins who want to study the Earth, the Sun or nearby stars have a low-cost option to do so: high altitude balloons that float their telescopes into the stratosphere.

But up until now, planetary researchers haven't been able to use balloons because they need a system that can accurately point their instruments and track their targets through the Solar System.

The space agency's new WASP system, however, can, pointing with sub arc-second accuracy and stability.

"Arc-second pointing is unbelievably precise," said David Stuchlik, the WASP project manager. "Some compare it to the ability to find and track an object that is the diameter of a dime from two miles away."

Instead of having to develop pointing systems for each mission, WASP allows scientists to focus on their instruments, knowing it can do the pointing for them.

To test the system, which is designed to be highly flexible and support many science payloads, a boffin interested in studying Jupiter and other planetary bodies is getting ready to test-drive the device this year.

WASP has already been flight-tested, with the latest test using a 30-storey balloon to lift an engineers' test unit of the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science (HySICS) to nearly 122,000 feet, far above most of Earth's atmosphere. There the system accurately pointed HySICS to take radiance measurements of the Earth, Sun and Moon.

This September will see the inaugural flight of the Observatory for Planetary Investigations from the Stratosphere (OPIS), which will study Jupiter and planets beyond the Solar System.

"Time for planetary observations on ground-based observatories is difficult to obtain," said OPIS Principal Investigator Terry Hurford.

"Moreover, high-altitude balloons above 95 per cent of the Earth's atmosphere allow for observations in the ultraviolet- and infrared-wavelength bands, which aren't possible with ground-based telescopes.

"High-altitude balloons offer us a unique, low-cost platform to carry out our planetary observations. This effort provides us with a unique opportunity to build a capability that we can leverage for future opportunities. WASP gives us a new platform." ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.