BOPPS experienced a picture-perfect launch just before 10:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 25. The balloon carried the payload for approximately 17 hours to heights over 127,000 feet. The gondola and payloads functioned well, and sufficient science and engineering data were collected to achieve the top-level mission objectives. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL
The Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS) is a stratospheric balloon mission developed for NASA Planetary Science. It will fly from Fort Sumner, New Mexico in late September, 2014. It is designed to demonstrate gondola and payload systems for balloon-borne planetary astronomy to achieve fundamental science objectives.
BOPPS is a stabilized pointing platform mounting an 80-cm telescope on a gondola capable of operating at 110,000 to 140,000 feet, above most of the atmosphere's water and carbon dioxide. Because it is at such a high altitude, BOPPS can see wavelengths of light which are blocked by the atmosphere from reaching the ground. BOPPS is designed to measure water and carbon dioxide from comets at infrared wavelengths in the 2.5 to 5 micron range, which cannot be seen from the ground because of atmospheric absorption.
The primary science objectives of the BOPPS mission are to measure CO2 and H2O emissions from the Oort Cloud Comets C/2013A1 Siding Spring and C/2012K1 PanSTARRS. These emissions tell us about the CO2 and H2O ices trapped in the nuclei of the comets. These are primordial ices preserved since the formation of the solar system, since the comets have been stored at enormous distances from the Sun, at low temperatures in the Oort Cloud, over nearly the entire age of the Solar System.
BOPPS will additionally observe comets at the wavelength of the hydroxyl (OH) emission in the near ultraviolet and will test and characterize the effects of atmospheric turbulence on imaging at balloon altitudes. The primary objective of this experiment, observing in the near ultraviolet and the visible wavelength ranges, is to demonstrate image pointing stability better than an arc second.
The BOPPS measurements of Comet Siding Spring occur a few weeks before the comet’s extremely close approach to Mars, on October 19, 2014. This unusual and exciting event will be observed from Earth and from both Mars surface and orbiting platforms.
Although Comet Siding Spring will be a spectacular sight from Mars – a comet of the century for Martians – it will be visible from Earth only with the aid of binoculars or telescopes. From North America, it can be seen in the southwestern sky, at low elevation, shortly after sunset.
Comet PanSTARRS can be seen from North America only while the Sun is up, during the day. BOPPS will observe Comet PanSTARRS in broad daylight, but in the stratosphere at infrared wavelengths. The daytime sky at such high altitude, and at these wavelengths, is not blindingly bright as it is on the ground in the visible. It is dark enough that BOPPS can see the comet.