From Wanaka to space: NZ to be launch-pad for car-sized telescope [NZH, 27/27/21]
A next-generation telescope that could help yield new insights about mysterious dark matter will be launched from New Zealand and into the edge of space next year.
Next April, the Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope, dubbed SuperBIT, will be carried from the ground in Wanaka to 40km above sea level, via a helium balloon packing a volume of 532,000 cubic metres – equivalent to that of a football stadium.
Once operational, the SuperBIT – itself weighing as much as a car – will fly above 99.5 per cent of the atmosphere.
Carried by seasonally stable winds over a few months, it will circumnavigate the Earth several times — imaging the sky all night, then using solar panels to recharge its batteries during the day.
The international scientists behind the project – from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and Durham, Toronto and Princeton universities – say the high-resolution images it will collect may even be comparable to those gathered by the famed Hubble Space Telescope.
Being positioned above the Earth meant the telescope could capture imagery of space not possible from the ground.
Light from a distant galaxy could travel for billions of years to reach our telescopes, but, in the final fraction of a second, it has to pass through the Earth’s swirling, turbulent atmosphere – blurring our view of the universe.
While observatories on the ground were built at high altitude sites to overcome some of this, until now, only placing a telescope in space escaped the effect of the atmosphere.