The X-ray telescope InFOCuS in the NASA hangar at the Fort Sumner Municipal Airport. An X-ray mirror (the object in the background, left, that looks like a jet engine intake) concentrates X-rays onto the WUSTL polarimeter, situated directly behind Matthias Beilicke (left) and Fabian Kislat. -


X-Calibur is poised to travel to the edge of space riding a high-altitude research balloon.  Lifting from Fort Sumner, New Mexico and flown by NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, it is planned to take advantage of season wind patterns that should return the payload near its release point at the end of its flight. 


X-Calibur is an extremely high-precision X-ray polarimeter that will be installed in the focal plane of NASA’s InFOCuS X-ray telescope on a one-day balloon flight.  The researchers are planning to capture new data that will contribute to the understanding of binary black hole systems, pulsars and accreting neutron stars.  Both X-Calibur and InFOCuS  have been designed to be reusable and expandable allowing for continued enhancement of their capabilities.


High altitude balloons have a long history of being a relatively inexpensive mode for performing space research.  Flying at altitudes of 100,000 ft and higher, the payloads are carried out beyond 99.99% of the Earth’s atmosphere.  This vantage point allows for views out into space and back at Earth that rival those of satellite borne instruments.  In addition to being able to retrieve the payload at the end of the flight, balloon payloads are not subject to the high-G acceleration loading of satellite launch or held to the same weight constraints.  Combined with the reduced amount of personnel and equipment required to monitor a flight, high altitude balloons are an important part of space exploration.


More on X-Calibur can be found at the Washington University, St. Louis, research site -


Did you know:

  • Google has been experimenting with high-alt balloons as a platform for delivering wireless internet access in remotely populated areas.  -  Check out Project Loon.
  • Wisconsin has an opportunity for college students to spend the summer exploring near-space.  The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) hires summer interns to be part of a team that designs, builds and flies science payloads to the edge of space on high-altitude weather balloons.  Best of all, the project is housed right here at MSOE.  -  Check out the opportunity, Student Satellite Balloon Payload Summer Internship.