NASA’s Virginia-based Wallops Flight Facility has come up with a new pointing system named WASP or the Wallops Arc Second Pointer. This unique system can aim balloon-transported scientific equipment at targets with what experts refer to as “sub arc-second” stability and accuracy.
David Stuchlik, WASP project manager, told the press: “Arc-second pointing is unbelievably precise. Some compare it to the ability to find and track an object that is the diameter of a dime from two miles away.”
Scientists have been utilizing high-altitude balloons to conduct planetary observations for quite some time. OPIS (Observatory for Planetary Investigations from the Stratosphere) Principal Investigator Terry Hurford reported that that these balloons can enable “precise observations in ultraviolet- and infrared-wavelength bands” from above the earth’s atmosphere. Stuchlik added that the WASP is also capable of tracking objects the size of a dime and from a distance of two miles away.
First tested in 2011 and then once more in 2012, the WASP has other unique properties as well including standardized systems and high flexibility. A 30-story balloon carried an engineering test unit of the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science or HySICs to an altitude of almost 122,000 feet in Fort Summer, New Mexico last year. NASA scientists will test the WASP once again later this year when they launch OPIS from the Stratosphere to conduct a 24-hour mission to observe Jupiter and record time measurements on the planet’s atmospheric structure as long as the stratospheric winds cooperate.
Meanwhile, Hurford and NASA scientists are working hard in an attempt to “upgrade” the WASP’s existing avionics system to further ensure planetary tracking capabilities and to increase its abilities to trail targets at more than 25 degrees of elevation.
(Image courtesy of NASA)