Welcome to SuperBIT

The Super-pressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT) is a highly-stabilized, high-resolution telescope that operates in the stratosphere via NASA's super-pressure balloon (SPB) system. At 40 km altitude above sea level, the football-stadium-sized balloon carries SuperBIT (at 3500 lbs) to a suborbital environment above 99.2% of the Earth's atmosphere in order to obtain space quality imaging. As a research instrument, SuperBIT's primary science goal is to provide insight into the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters and throughout the large scale structure of the universe. As demonstrated by numerous test flights, the survey data generated by SuperBIT is expected to have similar quality and data collection efficiency as the Hubble Space Telescope while complementing surveys from other up-and-coming observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (formerly WFIRST).

SuperBIT is a 0.5 m, wide-field, diffraction-limited balloon-borne telescope that operates within the stratosphere in order to achieve space-like operating conditions and performance. With optical sensitivity from the near-infrared (900 nm) to the near-ultraviolet (300 nm), SuperBIT aims to make precise weak gravitational lensing measurements of galaxy clusters in order to infer the presence and relative quantity of dark matter in these clusters as well as the large scale structure of the universe. To achieve high precision measurements from a balloon-borne environment, the SuperBIT gondola - at roughly 3500 lbs - stabilizes its telescope to sub-arcsecond precision (akin to a three degree-of-freedom Steadicam) while sophisticated optics further stabilize the SuperBIT camera to < 50 milli-arcseconds. A useful analogy for this level of stability is threading a needle at the top of the CN Tower from Toronto's Centre Island (roughly 2.5 km away) and keeping the thread from touching the sides of the needle for up to 60 minutes. This level of precision, coupled with diffraction-limited optics as well as a large 0.5-degree field-of-view, enables SuperBIT to undertake astronomical surveys at a cadence and quality that rivals the Hubble Space Telescope. In this sense, one of SuperBIT's over-arching science and technology development goals is to make rapidly-developed yet highly capable sub-orbital astronomical platforms more accessible to the astronomical community at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent space- or satellite-based system of equivalent capability.

SuperBIT is currently undergoing preparations for its fully operational science flight, scheduled to launch from Wanaka, New Zealand in March 2022. SuperBIT will launch and maintain operations at an altitude of roughly 40 km above sea level via NASA's super-pressure balloon (SPB) system. The benefit of this relatively novel SPB system over conventional zero-pressure balloon systems is that stratospheric operations can be supported through diurnal cycles for more than 30 days, enabling SuperBIT to collect the images and data necessary to meet weak lensing science requirements.

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