Summary: Antarctica as a launch-pad for space astronomy missions
J.w.v. Storey1, M.G. Burton and M.C.B. Ashley
School ofPhysics, University ofNew South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia
In the coming decades, astronomical breakthroughs will increasingly come from observations from the best ground-
based locations and from space observatories. At infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths in particular, Antarctica
offers site conditions that are found nowhere else on earth. There are two implications of this. First, for tackling some
of the most crucial problems in astrophysics, a large telescope in Antarctica can outperform any other ground-based
facility. Second, with infrared backgrounds between one and two orders of magnitude below those at other sites,
superior sub-mm transmission and extraordinarily low atmospheric turbulence above the boundary layer, Antarctica
offers designers of space missions a unique test-bed for their ideas and instrumentation.
Keywords: Space, Antarctica, interferometry
The Antarctic plateau is the coldest and driest place on earth. The highest points are at elevations above 4,000 metres.
The atmosphere above the plateau is extraordinarily stable, as there is no jet stream, very little wind, and--at the South
Pole--no diurnal variation. There is nowhere else on earth that approximates a space environment better than does
In the infrared, for example, the sky brightness is typically 10 to 100 times darker than at the best "temperate"
observatories. The sub-mm transmission is superior to that measured anywhere else on earth. However, perhaps the
most important feature of Antarctica is the extraordinary stability of the upper atmosphere, which dramatically reduces