Astronomers in Space?
On Tuesday the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) and XCOR Aerospace signed an agreement to one day fly PSI's human-operated Atsa Suborbital Observatory aboard XCOR's Lynx spacecraft, as seen above in an artist's concept.
"NASA has been flying suborbital observatories for decades, on unmanned, disposable rockets," Atsa co-inventor and PSI affiliate scientist Luke Sollitt said in a statement released by XCOR. "The new manned, reusable commercial platforms will allow us to make repeated observations with a single instrument, but without the need to refurbish it between flights."
From suborbital heights of around 330,000 feet (100,000 meters), Atsa—which means "eagle" in Navajo—will be better able to study objects relatively close to the sun, which are almost impossible to target with either ground-based telescopes or current orbital instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope. It's unclear when Atsa will make its first flight.
Space Pictures This Week: Last Spacewalk, Saturn Storm, More
Astronauts take a milestone walk in space, a storm wraps around Saturn, and more in the best space pictures this week.