Mirror comparable to Hubble’s ready for JPL balloon astronomy mission

engineers attach panels to the mirror's support structure.
Engineers attach mirror panels to the mirror’s support structure.

An Italian optics company, Media Lario, has now completed construction of the primary mirror — at 2.5 meters width slightly larger than Hubble’s primary mirror — to be used on a JPL balloon astronomy mission dubbed ASTHROS, targeting a December 2023 launch.

The ASTHROS primary mirror features nine panels, which are significantly easier to fabricate than a one-piece mirror. The bulk of the mirror panels consist of lightweight aluminum, formed into a honeycomb structure that reduces its total mass. The panel surfaces are made of nickel and coated with gold, which improves the mirror’s reflectivity at far-infrared wavelengths.

Once launched, the balloon will circle the south pole for up to four weeks, taking data on the gas distribution in several galaxies.

While that data will be worthwhile, the mission’s real goal is to test these technologies for future space-based astronomy missions. If this mission works, it will reduce significantly the cost and time necessary to make big telescope mirrors, while enhancing the robotic capabilities of such telescopes.

World View gets incentives to settle in Arizona

The competition heats up: The space tourism balloon company World View has obtained $15 million in subsidies from an Arizona county to base their operation in Tucson.

Today’s go-ahead from the Pima County Board of Supervisors represents an initial step toward setting up the tourist operation. The supervisors voted to invest $15 million, backed by future tax revenue, to build the spaceport. World View would lease the facility from the county over a 20-year term to pay back the investment. The facility would include a launch pad, headquarters building and manufacturing facility, World View said.

Increasingly it looks like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is being left in the dust as other companies move forward with their own plans.

A new company is now offering balloon flights to the edge of space for one third the price of a suborbital flight.

The competition heats up: A new company is now offering balloon flights to the edge of space for one third the price of a suborbital flight.

World View passengers will soar to an altitude of about 30 kilometers (about 100,000 feet) — far short of SpaceShipTwo’s intended 110-kilometer (68-mile) high peak. Inside the capsule there will be little sensation of microgravity. Rather, the whole point of the ride is the view. “You can be sitting up there having your beverage of choice watching this extraordinary spectacle of the Earth below you and the blackness of space,” project co-founder and Paragon president Jane Poynter told Discovery News. “It really is very gentle. You can be up at altitude for hours, for days for research if you need to be… I think we have the opportunity to give a really, really incredible experience to people — and for a lot less than most of what’s out on the market right now,” she said.

Space tourism — in a balloon.

Space tourism — in a balloon.

A newly successful test of a balloon could allow paying human customers to enjoy stunning Earth views and the weightless astronaut experience by 2014. The test balloon carried a humanoid robot up to an altitude of almost 20 miles (32 kilometers) on Nov. 12 — just a few miles shy of where skydiver Felix Baumgartner leaped from during his “space dive” in October. Startup Zero 2 Infinity wants to eventually offer hours of flight time for space tourists to do whatever they want in a near-space environment.

Ticket prices are $143K. And they have a list of customers who have already plunked down deposits.