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UA christens new research balloon lab in Tucson

Space scientists at the University of Arizona have a new place to prepare mission packages for high-altitude balloon flights, with the school’s Mission Integration Lab opening on the side south of Tucson.

On Monday, UA officials and supporters christened the 43-foot-tall UA Tech Park building on decks, which includes a high bay for suspending balloon payloads.

The new facility will allow researchers and engineers to build and test equipment for balloon astronomy experiments and missions.

Balloon astronomy bridges an important gap between ground-based observatories and space-based telescopes, allowing the deployment of telescopes and other instruments at altitudes where they avoid much of the interference from Earth’s atmosphere at a fraction of the cost. space missions.

Professor Dan Marrone of the UA Department of Astronomy, a balloon astronomy researcher, at the UA Mission Integration Lab at the University of Arizona Technology Park at Tucson Bridges on Monday.

Arizona Daily Star Rick Wiley

AU must expand its research infrastructure to maintain its ranking as one of the nation’s top schools for space science, said Jeff Kingsley, associate director of AU’s Steward Observatory.

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“High-altitude balloon experiments expand our knowledge and understanding of star formation, star life cycles and interstellar media, and other specialized observations not possible with a ground-based telescope,” Kingsley said. to a crowd of about 150 participants who huddled inside the lab for a ribbon cutting to avoid the rain.

The lab building includes a high-rise area covering 4,500 square feet of floor space, 40-foot-high doors, and a 7½-ton capacity overhead crane system.

The building, designed by Tucson-based Swaim Associates Architects, was constructed by Concord General Contracting with precast, one-foot-thick concrete walls.

Among current UA projects using the new lab is the ULDB Galactic/Extragalactic Terahertz Spectroscopic Observatory, or GUSTO, a long-duration NASA-funded balloon mission slated for launch on next year from Antarctica.

Another is Terahertz Intensity Mapper, or TIM, a NASA-funded balloon mission designed to create a giant map of galaxies spanning 5 billion years of cosmic history.

The instrument module for the long-duration balloon mission GUSTO – Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory – was displayed at the University of Arizona Technology Park’s UA Mission Integration Lab at the Bridges of Tucson on December 12.

Arizona Daily Star Rick Wiley

Facilities like the Mission Integration Lab are essential for testing to avoid costly mission failures, said UA Professor Dan Marrone, co-investigator on TIM.

“It’s going to make it much easier to do missions like this in the future,” Marrone said. “In space missions, you only get one chance, like in balloon missions, and this facility will help us get it right.”

AU is investing $4.75 million in the Mission Integration Lab, which will be used by researchers across campus and will help attract companies looking to advance their technology through public-private partnerships.

The new lab will generate new science and attract commercial space ventures, said Betsy Cantwell, head of research and innovation.

“This building is the start of the commercial space empire we’re building in Tucson,” Cantwell said. “When you take this remarkable science at AU and build a place that gives this science the opportunity to flourish in new work, whether scientific or commercial, it provides new jobs and new capabilities in Tucson.

UA President Robert Robbins said the new facility will further enhance the school’s already formidable space science capabilities while attracting private business partners.

“Because of the science that’s being done here, the fundamental discoveries, we can translate that into new marketable products, and so companies from all over the world want to come here and work with us – as we used to say in Texas, we are sweetening the honeypot,” he said.

The Mission Integration Lab is the first UA research building to be constructed at The Bridges, a 365-acre mixed-use development that includes 65 acres of UA property, noted Carol Stewart, vice president of Tech Parks Arizona.

By January, the Springhill Suites by Marriot is expected to open at the south end of The Bridges, and the Arizona Center for Innovation will soon open a new business incubator at The Refinery, where a new commercial tenant will soon be announced, a Stewart said.

“We’re really building this environment to work, live and play here,” she said.

The University of Arizona’s new test facility for balloon research is taking shape at UA Tech Park in The Bridges, where several UA technology agencies are also moving into a new building.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook:


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