Airlander 10 is a hybrid airship — meaning that part of its lift, or ability to fly, comes from being filled with lighter-than-air gas, and the other part of its lift comes from aerodynamics. Originally designed and built for the US Army, the military sold the airship back to the manufacturer in 2016 for civilian use. It is now in test flights, having survived an accident, which damaged the airship, but left the crew unharmed. This means that Feeney's proposal is still in a very early stage.
"We are currently working with Hybrid Air Vehicles, Airlander 10's designers, to ascertain whether the vibrations from Airlander 10's engines are low enough to allow a CMB telescope to gather useful data,” Feeney said. “If this critical criterion is satisfied, we will look to develop the concept further.”
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Feeney's research, in part, concerns how to operate CMB detectors at higher altitudes, which requires knowledge of how they perform at sea level, then extrapolating their performance at higher and higher altitudes. The research also seeks to ways to avoid confusing radiation from galaxies, which are closer to us than the CMB. Both galaxies and CMB can emit radiation at the same wavelengths.
"These foregrounds can be cleaned from the CMB by observing the sky at many different wavelengths, as the amplitudes of the foregrounds and CMB change differently with wavelength," Feeney said.
One of the main goals of Airlander 10 observations is searching for gravitational waves that were generated when the universe was expanding exponentially, during a phase in its lifetime called inflation. The signal hasn't been observed yet, Feeney said, but the hope is to at least improve scientists' understanding of the amplitude of the imprint of gravitational waves on the CMB.
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