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planetary balloon-based science platform evaluation and program implementationThis report describes a study evaluating the potential for a balloon-based optical telescope as a planetary science asset to achieve decadal class science. The study considered potential science achievable and science traceability relative to the most recent planetary science decadal survey, potential platform features, and demonstration flights in the evaluation process. Science Potential and Benefits: This study confirms the cost the-benefit value for planetary science purposes. Forty-four (44) important questions of the decadal survey are at least partially addressable through balloon based capabilities. Planetary science through balloon observations can provide significant science through observations in the 300 nm to 5 m range and at longer wavelengths as well. Additionally, balloon missions have demonstrated the ability to progress from concept to observation to publication much faster than a space mission increasing the speed of science return. Planetary science from a balloon-borne platform is a relatively low-cost approach to new science measurements. This is particularly relevant within a cost-constrained planetary science budget. Repeated flights further reduce the cost of the per unit science data. Such flights offer observing time at a very competitive cost. Another advantage for planetary scientists is that a dedicated asset could provide significant new viewing opportunities not possible from the ground and allow unprecedented access to observations that cannot be realized with the time allocation pressures faced by current observing assets. In addition, flight systems that have a relatively short life cycle and where hardware is generally recovered, are excellent opportunities to train early career scientists, engineers, and project managers. The fact that balloon-borne payloads, unlike space missions, are generally recovered offers an excellent tool to test and mature instruments and other space craft systems. Desired Gondola Features: Potential gondola characteristics are assessed in this study and a concept is recommended, the Gondola for High-Altitude Planetary Science (GHAPS). This first generation platform is designed around a 1 m or larger aperture, narrow-field telescope with pointing accuracies better than one arc-second. A classical Cassegrain, or variant like Ritchey-Chretien, telescope is recommended for the primary telescope. The gondola should be designed for multiple flights so it must be robust and readily processed at recovery. It must be light-weighted to the extent possible to allow for long-duration flights on super-pressure balloons. Demonstration Flights: Recent demonstration flights achieved several significant accomplishments that can feed forward to a GHAPS gondola project. Science results included the first ever Earth-based measurements for CO2 in a comet, first measurements for CO2 and H2O in an Oort cloud comet, and the first measurement of 1 Ceres at 2.73 m to refine the shape of the infrared water absorption feature. The performance of the Fine Steering Mirror (FSM) was also demonstrated. The BOPPS platform can continue to be leveraged on future flights even as GHAPS is being developed. The study affirms the planetary decadal recommendations, and shows that a number of Top Priority science questions can be achieved. A combination GHAPS and BOPPS would provide the best value for PSD for realizing that science.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Dankanich, John W.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Kremic, Tibor
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Hibbitts, Karl
(Johns Hopkins Univ. Laurel, MD, United States)
Young, Eliot F.
(Southwest Research Inst. Boulder, CO, United States)
Landis, Rob
(NASA Headquarters Washington, DC United States)
Date Acquired
March 7, 2016
Publication Date
March 1, 2016
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Report/Patent Number
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 811073.
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

Available Downloads

NameType 20160003075.pdf STI