If all goes according to plan, a balloon the size of a football field will loft NASA's BETTII mission above 99.5 percent of Earth's atmosphere next year to study star formation.
This mission will use a technique called spatial interferometry to combine observations of smaller telescopes to effect the viewing power of a larger one. BETTII will be NASA's first such mission.
Dr. Stephen Rinehart, associate chief of the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has worked with interns on BETTII, short for Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry, for many years now.
For the spring, Joe Gibson and Yamil Huertas are thrilled they are part of this team. "Both of them are doing really well -- once again, we've got some great students!" Rinehart said.
Last summer's seven students worked tirelessly to finish parts of BETTII's control system, which will be used to guide BETTII and stabilize it for clearer pictures. "It has been performing very well." Rinehart said. "They did a great job." Huertas, a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon Campus, chose BETTII because it let him work on fields related to mechanics, electronics and computers. Huertas worked on two projects this summer. He focused on BETTII's Star Camera, which will tell scientists where BETTII is pointing, and developed a circuit that will read BETTII's temperature sensors.
Gibson is a senior at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, studying computer engineering. Gibson works with Stephen Maher, a computer scientist at Goddard, writing code for the communication and control software on BETTII. His code will send information from the Star Camera to the control system to map exactly where in the sky BETTII takes its pictures.
"We are a team and all of us work for the greater good and success of the project," Huertas said. "It is a childhood dream to be working here," Gibson said. "After such an amazing experience, the only thing I can say is that I sincerely hope to return some day."
Gibson and Huertas' amazing experiences, those of the students before them, and students yet to come are what will enable BETTII to reach its 2015 launch date and study stellar evolution like never before.