We are developing and demonstrating the technology to realize a balloon-borne, 10-meter class telescope for astrophysics and remote sensing from radio through THz frequencies.
The telescope consists of a receiver system inside of an inflatable, half-aluminized spherical reflector deployed within a much larger carrier balloon. Beside serving as a launch vehicle for the sub-orbital observatory, the carrier balloon provides both a stable mount and radome for the enclosed telescope. Looking up, LBR will serve as a telescope; looking down, LBR can be used for remote sensing or telecommunication. Our efforts directly address NASA's Strategic Goals 2, 3, 5, and 6 (PDF).
For astrophysics, LBR will be a new window on star and planet formation in the Milky Way and beyond. Gases in Earth's atmosphere (predominantly water vapor) absorb frequencies of light at many astrophyisically important places in the radio and THz spectrum. Above essentially all of this gas, LBR will allow high spatial and spectral resolution follow-up studies from other missions such as Herschel, Spitzer, and SOFIA at a fraction of the cost of those space- or aircraft-based systems.
With initial funding support from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, we have successfully demonstrated that we can overcome many of the key challenges in realizing this mission.