ISLAMABAD            -          Work has begun on an ambitious new mission that will carry a cutting-edge 8.4-foot (2.5-meter) telescope high into the stratosphere on a balloon. Tentatively planned to launch in December 2023 from Antarctica, ASTHROS (short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths) will spend about three weeks drifting on air currents above the icy southern continent and achieve several firsts along the way.  Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, ASTHROS observes far-infrared light, or light with wavelengths much longer than what is visible to the human eye. To do that, ASTHROS will need to reach an altitude of about 130,000 feet (24.6 miles, or 40 kilometers) — roughly four times higher than commercial airliners fly.

Though still well below the boundary of space (about 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above Earth’s surface), it will be high enough to observe light wavelengths blocked by Earth’s atmosphere.

The mission team recently put the finishing touches on the design for the observatory’s payload, which includes its telescope (which captures the light), its science instrument, and such subsystems as the cooling and electronic systems. In early August, engineers at JPL will begin integration and testing of those subsystems to verify that they perform as expected.