Press Release

‘HEROES’ to Fly High: NASA Researchers’ Innovative, Balloon-Borne Solar/Space Imager Selected for Agency Training Award

By SpaceRef Editor
July 17, 2012
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — An innovative, dual solar/space imaging project, jointly developed by enterprising researchers at two NASA field centers, has been selected for the agency’s Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) Training Opportunity award — an honor designed to promote achievement among America’s newest ranks of space scientists and engineers.

The “High Energy Replicated Optics to Explore the Sun” project, or HEROES, is a joint effort to fly a powerful X-ray telescope high into Earth’s atmosphere. During the day, it will study solar flares, providing new insight into the way the sun’s magnetic energy functions. At night, the telescope’s eye will turn outward to the stars, observing a variety of astrophysical targets.

Proposed by a combined team of solar scientists and astrophysicists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the balloon-borne imager is one of only two HOPE award selections in 2012.

The scientific balloon carrying HEROES is expected to launch in the fall of 2013, from the Ft. Sumner, N.M., test site managed by the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility of Palestine, Texas. HEROES is expected to fly to an altitude of approximately 25 miles, well into Earth’s stratosphere.

The HOPE awards have been presented annually since 2009 by the NASA Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership, in partnership with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Office of the Chief Engineer and Office of the Chief Technologist in Washington. The awards are designed to help NASA engineers and scientists with little or no previous flight-project experience take a mission from concept to launch to post-flight analysis over the course of a year.

“The engineering data and scientific findings from these projects inform a variety of other NASA activities,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “But the most valuable aspect of the HOPE awards is as an accelerated learning opportunity for our most promising new team members — enhancing their technical, project and leadership skills to continue NASA’s mission well into the 21st century.”

Daniel Schumacher, manager of the Marshall Center’s Science & Technology Office, agreed. “This early, vital career experience is invaluable to NASA and to our teams and partners around the nation,” Schumacher said. “The HOPE awards are a multipurpose investment opportunity in our future.”

Eligibility for the HOPE awards extends to any NASA researchers developing in-house payloads that can be flown aboard available, low-cost NASA and commercial vehicles.

More About HEROES

The HEROES project is an advanced version of NASA’s successful High Energy Replicated Optics telescope, or HERO, first flown to the upper atmosphere by Marshall researchers in 2001 to detect distant X-ray sources in space. HEROES will significantly modify the original high-flying imager with a number of upgrades, most notably an innovative targeting technology dubbed the Solar Aspect System. Developed at the Goddard Center, this sophisticated, new pointing technology will enable scientists to aim HEROES with a high degree of precision, targeting specific points on the sun to obtain high-resolution images and spectroscopic data. When the sun sets on HEROES, the telescope will use its star camera to target and document additional X-ray sources overnight.

The cross-center NASA team, led by co-principle investigators Jessica Gaskin at Marshall and Steven Christe at Goddard, currently is prepping the instrument and assessing mission requirements and specifications for HEROES’ first major milestone — a System Requirements Review set for August.

“HEROES will provide the most sensitive hard X-ray observations of the sun captured to date, and will pave the way for this technology to be used on a future satellite mission,” Christe said.

“We’re equally proud that this effort brings together the capabilities and expertise of NASA’s solar science and astrophysics divisions,” Gaskin said. “By successfully integrating our science goals and working together to develop and fly the instrument we’re using to achieve them, we hope to demonstrate how NASA can cut costs, combine resources and dramatically improve the return on its investment across all the extraplanetary sciences.”

The Marshall and Goddard centers have more than 35 years of experience in flying high-altitude test balloons, plus decades of experienced NASA leadership in scientific research and spacecraft development, integration, test and launch. Learn more about their work here:

For more information about the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, visit:

For more information about the NASA Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and its work, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.