Launch of the NASA balloon borne Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO2) is expected soon. A giant helium balloon will carry the detectors developed by Delft University of Technology to detect radiation in the terahertz range. This allows scientists to map the composition of dust clouds in our Milky Way, providing them with one of the missing pieces in the life cycle of galaxies.
For the past ten years, Dr. Jian-Rong Gao, a theme leader at the TU Delft Space Institute and senior instrument scientist at Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), has been working on the development of terahertz detectors and also novel local oscillator technology. The latter is crucial to get the spectral information of astronomic lines. The advancements his team made in this field were recognized by the STO2 consortium in USA (led by University of Arizona) as his detectors were selected for the use on the STO2 mission. The cryogenic detector system produced by SRON and Delft University of Technology was shipped to McMurdo, a NASA base on Antarctica, at the beginning of November, where it was integrated into the STO2 balloon gondola. The team on McMurdo base is now waiting for the right weather conditions to launch the balloon to an altitude of 40 km to perform measurements on atomic nitrogen, carbon and oxygen in the Milky Way. Plans for a follow up mission called GUSTO are already being made by NASA.
For a further read, you are referred to: Delft Outlook article.