The overall project aim of ORISON was to study the feasibility of a balloon-based research infrastructure, deploying small-to-medium-sized telescopes, that would allow state of the art research at acceptable cost and not necessarily from remote locations.The underlying...
The overall project aim of ORISON was to study the feasibility of a balloon-based research infrastructure, deploying small-to-medium-sized telescopes, that would allow state of the art research at acceptable cost and not necessarily from remote locations.
The underlying challenge addressed by this approach is how to efficiently â€“ and affordably â€“ overcome the limitations that the atmosphere imposes on astronomical observations. The usual solution to overcome these limitations is to develop and use space missions, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. While space missions are very effective in overcoming atmosphere-induced limitations, their costs are immense and their availability is highly restricted. The advance of small-, micro-, and picosatellites and associated design philosophies has brought some improvement, but astronomical satellites still remain challenging since their miniaturisation is somewhat limited by performance-driven size requirements on the optical system, particularly mirror diameter and focal length. Space missions, besides the immense costs involved, are usually very risky and are subject to irrecoverable failures. Besides, they take very long to implement and launch and by the time they are launched part of their instrumentation is already nearly outdated. Stratospheric balloon solutions have been used in the past to overcome some of the problems listed in the previous section, but most of the balloon missions were carried out with expensive balloons launched with very heavy, single-objective payloads and launched from Antarctica or near the North Pole to take advantage of the special pattern of wind circulation there. The ORISON approach was to study the effect of changing the paradigm for these missions: changing the operational approach from single purpose missions to community-accessible observatories with exchangeable instruments and focusing on light-weight, medium sized payloads and short-duration missions from accessible launch sites.
The focus thereby was not only on the potential miniaturisation and most efficient employment of balloon-based observatories, but also especially on the feasibility of procuring such a research infrastructure under an innovative public procurement method (i.e. PCP or PPI). To this end, the objectives of the ORISON project were:
- To analyse the detailed needs and requirements of the infrastructure, based on the aim of serving a broad scientific community;
- To carry out a feasibility analysis of the technical approach, its development risks and costs, carefully taking into account the current state of the art and market situation;
- To identify potential other public procurers with interest in the infrastructure;
- And to analyse, and potentially detail, the suitability of innovative public procurement methods for the implementation.
In conclusion, the analyses carried out during ORISON showed that the concept of a versatile, mid-sized balloon observatory is technically feasible, but requires further technological development to be competitive. The development steps are considered to be achievable within a reasonable timeframe. Given this technical conclusion, with some R&D steps still required for a sensible implementation, pre-commercial procurement (PCP) was identified as a suitable method for procuring the infrastructure. Positive resonance and official support for further development of the infrastructure was found among a number of research infrastructures. The project also showed, however, the importance of successful capability demonstration and clear quantification and communication of potential applications in the non-academic sector to gain further support.
Technical / scientific work performed:
- Methodological identification of needs and requirements for a scientifically beneficial observatory-type balloon telescope by surveying scientists
- Conduction of a technical feasibility study for an observatory infrastructure based on mid-sized optical telescopes
- Performance of four scientific pre-cursor flights of small payloads to study meteor showers and light pollution
Work performed with regard to procurement and regulations:
- Conduction of a study on legal and regulatory conditions for stratospheric balloon flights in countries considered for flight operations
- Identification of a suitable public procurement method and development of a roadmap for public procurement of the infrastructure
- Technical and operational feasibility of an observatory type balloon-based research infrastructure designed around mid-sized optical telescopes was confirmed
- Required development steps to make the infrastructure technically and economically competitive were identified
- A suitable public procurement method (PCP) was identified and a roadmap to public procurement designed
- Continuous contact and plans for further development of the infrastructure were established with other public procurers and potential stakeholders, leading, among others, to a follow-on project under H2020
Dissemination and exploitation of the results will continue under the follow-on activities of ORISON.
During the ORISON project, the feasibility of a game-changing approach to high-quality astronomy and other research was confirmed. Based on the findings and the subsequent work, the European research area, particularly in the field of astronomy, will be strengthened. A newly available research infrastructure will foster innovation in scientific findings, methods, and instrumentation.
Making high resolution and high photometric accuracy astronomical observations more affordable, the implementation of the research infrastructure proposed within ORISON will make the European research area more efficient and competitive.
Furthermore, carrying out the identified necessary developments in the fields of optical stabilisation systems, ruggedized telescopes, steered parafoils, and lightweight electronics largely within Europe will strengthen European industry in these fields.
More info: http://www.orison.eu.