Project ORISON to study the cosmos from stratospheric balloons launched

May 03, 2016

ORISON, financed by the European Union through the H2020 scheme, is a project conducted by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, the University of Stuttgart, the Max Planck Society, and Ernst & Young.

The atmosphere provides us with vital support and equally protects us from harmful radiation, impacts of small asteroids, and other harmful elements. At the same time, however, it constitutes an obstacle for most astronomical observations. For this reason, astronomers try to locate observatories either in the high altitude of mountains or on satellites. Since most of the limiting effects, however, occur only in the first 20 to 30 km of the atmosphere above ground, the use of stratospheric balloons is an effective option, potentially much cheaper than satellite launches. Project ORISON will study the feasibility of creating an observation infrastructure in the stratosphere based on instruments carried by balloons.

"As part of this project, various preparatory and demonstration flights will be carried out to explore the possibilities of this technique at low cost,” says José Luis Ortiz, researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía and project coordinator of ORISON. The first of these flights was carried out in the night from April 22nd to 23rd with the objective of observing the Lyrids meteor shower. This shower is characterised by its weak activity, but by an important production of large meteors (bolides) which can potentially deposit meteorites."

The study of meteor showers is of high importance: they can provide hints to the presence of potentially dangerous objects that are hardly detectable by telescopes, such as the Chelyabinsk (Russia) bolide, which caused considerable personal and material damage. The meteor showers themselves can also damage instrumentation in orbit, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Landsat 5, or Olympus 1, which have experienced cases of small or large damage due to meteoroids or space debris.

At the occasion of the past flight a bolide was captured for the first time in HD and colour from a stratospheric balloon, demonstrating the viability of this low-cost technique to obtain valuable scientific data.


Observations from the stratosphere allow us to study phenomena like meteor showers from a unique perspective, from just underneath the high atmosphere in which these phenomena take place. They also allow us to study other phenomena in the high atmosphere, such as super-atmospheric luminous electric discharges. Equally, large-scale phenomena on the ground, like the proliferation of light pollution can be observed well from a high vantage point.

“Without a doubt, this type of observations can provide major benefits to astrophysical research. Of particular interest could be the study of planets outside of our solar system via the transit technique, the study of rings around solar system objects, or the detection and study of transneptunian objects, just to mention a few” concludes Ortiz (IAA-CSIC).

This project constitutes a continuation of the experience of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) in the development of stratospheric flights, gained with the SUNRISE mission and the Huygens probe test flights. This first test within project ORISON was realised in collaboration with the amateur group Daedalus.



Andalusian Astrophysics Institute (IAA-CSIC)
ORISON - Observing from the Stratosphere
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