The High Contrast Imaging Balloon System

HiCIBaS is a balloon borne telescope whose main goal is to demonstrate the usability of
high contrast imaging equipment on board a stratospheric balloon flight.

Telemetry is the key

Since this is our second flight, we know from experience that devil is in the details, especially when your experiment is at 40km in the sky... Lately, we have been working on making sure that we get proper retroaction from out payload while we are monitoring it from the ground. For a payload as complex as HiCIBaS, it is important to know in real time several information, including temperature, status, speed, position, etc. Obtaining proper telemetry data on the ground is ensured by the hardware on-board, but also through a really good software and data management strategy. All that together will allow us to better understand what is going with our payload during the flight.

February 2023

When pieces fall into place

Things are going great as we enter the final stages of system integration and testing. With the aligned optical bench integrated with the telescope and motorized mount, we will be able to complete all functional tests, in addition to performing the essential performance tests. Our plan testing plan even includes phases in a freezer to ensure that all systems can perform at cold temperature. We look forward to progress as this brings us closer to the mission.

November 2022

A second visit for HiCIBaS' students at OMM

HiCIBaS’ master students Ophélie Légaré and Koichi Watanabe-Brouillette recently visited Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic to investigate the state of the Shack-Hartmann located in the telescope's guiding bonette. The instrument was used to confirm the alignment of the telescope. Bright stars were selected for this task during the mission and an explanatory document on the use of the Shack-Hartmann was given to the OMM team for future investigations. In regards to this first experience at a professional observatory, Ophélie mentioned that she was impressed by how dedicated the team was on-site, and also by the telescope itself. To decribed her trip, she added: 'Some fun wavefronts, a lot of good food, a magnificent night sky and the most beautiful landscapes. In short, an unforgettable experience!'

August 2022

EMCCD for future space domain awareness applications

Building on previous work, members of the HiCiBaS team are currently working on the simulation of spatial debris detection using an EMCCD (Electron-Multiplying Charge-Coupled Device) from Canadian company and HiCIBaS' partner Nüvü camera. Their cutting-edge camera will be included in the future Roman Space Telescope, a NASA project to launch in 2027. EMCCD technology provides a way to capture with great details the most obscure scene making it a worthy asset for Roman and also for HiCIBaS. We plan to use it on the payload to gather data on space debris in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). This is especially interesting considering the number of satellites and the presence of the space station in LEO. If you are curious about how EMCCD can be used to detect space debris, the team recently presented their preliminary work at SPIE Astronomical telescope and instrumentation. To learn more about EMCCD technology, you can visit Nüvü Cameras’ website.

June 2022

Shaping light, one ray at a time

The team is currently working on the steps of the alignment of the optical bench of HiCIBaS-II. This includes the implementation of the tip-tilt mirror (TTM). This mirror is driven by three high-resolution piezoelectric actuators allowing to precisely redirect the beam towards the Shack-Hartmann sensors. Once the optical bench is aligned, it will be attached to the telescope to complete final system alignment and test. We look forward to this milestone as we will be one step closer to the Mission.

March 2022

HiCIBaS, from design to reality

It is always a very exciting moment when design ideas come to life in the laboratory, getting you one step closer to your goal. It is not surprising that the team was very happy to receive all the parts for our new telescope stand earlier this year. It was an interesting experience for HiCIBaS' student members to assemble a complexe mechanical structure. One key element of the design is that the weight of the telescope and the optical payload can be balanced around the elevation axis to ensure minimal residual strength on the elevation motor. This means that the mount can account for small changes in the optical payload, but also accomodate a totally different payload for future phases.

January 2022

HiCIBaS in the media

HiCIBaS was recently featured not in one, but in two TV shows. Radio-Canada's Découverte lately procuded an awesome segment about our partner from HiCIBaS' first phase Olivier Daigle from Nüvü Caméras. Images of the HiCIBaS' first mission can be seen around 6:15. But it's not all ! HiCIBaS' master student Ophélie Légaré participated to Génial! in Télé-Québec, where she demonstrated adaptitve imaging, a key principle of the HiCIBaS missions. Génial! is a TV program for young people and families aiming at increasing awareness about science and engineering in fun way.

December 2021

A modified pointing system the work

A new enslavement of elevation and azimuth motors is underway and will be completed in late fall. It will be used to target the stars with a stabilisation precision that meets HiCIBaS' requirements for to gather relevant knowledge on the high altitude atmospheric dynamics. Indeed, the team is currently working on the dynamic modeling of the system. Once the complete structure is assemmbled, this modeling will allow to test, in a realistic way, regulator allowing to modify the pointing performances of the system.

September 2021

Final design of the telescope structure

This summer we are working on the final design of the mechanical structure of HiCIBaS-II. A new altitude motor has been purchased and will be integrated into the design. Its precision and resolution are significantly improved compared to the one used on HiCIBaS-I, but the motor requires to be heated during the flight. It will be tested to ensure its performance in flight conditions. The optical payload, which will be designed in parallel, will also be integrated onto the stand. Once that is done, all that remains is to analyze the stresses on the structure and fine-tune the design to maximize strength and minimize weight.

June 2021

Power distribution done right

The team is currently working on creating a design for the power transmission and distribution system of the optical instruments on board the HiCIBaS - Phase II flight, thanks to our intern in electrical engineering. The first steps towards completion of the design of this system are to finalize payload component selections, create a power budget estimation and develop an electrical connection flow chart. This required to understand how every component will be powered and controlled and reviewing all component data sheets in order to access the electrical needs and limits which will be addressed when beginning circuit design.We also plan to assemble and test the circuit boards throughly. The image above shows our most recent estimation of what components and payloads will need to be powered on board the Carmencita gondola.

May 2021

Optomechanical design phase started

HiCIBaS-II will feature a brand new optomechanical design where the optical components will be attached directly on the structure of the telescope. This will allow for a more compact and sleek design maximizing the space on the high altitude balloon. As we are now finalizing the optical design, the optomechanical design will be completed before the end of the summer. Proper tolerancing, finite element analysis and assembly procedures will be developed to fit the Canadian Space Agency’s strict requirements.

March 2021

A modified optical design for HiCIBaS-II

The payload of HiCIBaS-II will have a compact optical design that focuses on the analysis of the atmospheric turbulences. To do so, we will use a Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor as our main instrument. This device uses an array of micro-lenses that creates a pattern of focal points on the sensor. This pattern will change if the wavefront is perturbed by the atmosphere. By analysing the wavefront, we will be able to determine the changes to apply to correct it. By a closed loop and a guiding camera, we will be able to get the best possible star pictures with the telescope. Thus, the challenge with this new version will be to make an optical design that is diffraction limited, ensuring the best image quality possible. It will therefore be easier to gather data on atmospheric turbulences for future missions.

December 2020

Students from all cycles: Join the team

You have a passion for the stars and would like to work on a hands-on project while growing your network in the space industry? We are always looking for talented and enthusiastic people to join the HiCIBaS' team. Several opportunities for students of all cycles in physics, computer science and mechanical, electrical, computer and physics engineering are available. To learn more on how you can be part of the adventure and contribute to HiCIBaS, do not hesitate to contact us.

October 2020

Conclusive prelimenary results for mechanical
design of HiCIBaS-II

Several modifications will be made to the mechanical design for HiCIBaS-II. For example, the second floor which was used for optics is going to be removed from the gondola. The optics are now going to be mounted directly on the telescope mount, causing new loads on the structure. Finite Element Analysis predict the performance of mechanical assemblies under loads and are used to identify the most critical areas on the mount, so we can minimze the risk of failure. The scope of these simulations is to verify the integrity of the mechanical components when solicited by in-flight loading, as well as loading experienced during landing. The whole assembly is set to withstand up to 15 g of vertical acceleration and 6.8 g of lateral acceleration.

June 2020

CSA to fund HiCIBaS-II...
Here we go again !

We are delighted to announce that the Canadian Space Agency will fund phase 2 of HiCIBaS through the FAST program. This new phase will take another look at our previous scientific objectives. We look forward to working with the partners and team and share the science behind HiCIBaS with you again.

Septembre 2018

HiCIBaS's flight brings a close to
Strato-Science 2018

Many things happened in the last month for HiCIBaS’ team, culminating on Saturday, August 25th at 11 pm, with the launch of the last flight of the Strato-Science 2018 campaign. The FAST-CARMEN scientific gondola hosted HiCIBaS’ payload, along with other Canadian experiments and CSA systems including ALI V2, CATS, HABOO and PRISM. The 12-hour flight allowed us to achieve many objectives of the mission. Post-flight analysis will be performed in the next months. For the latest information about HiCIBaS, visit our Facebook page HiCIBaS Balloon-borne mission.

August 2018

Towards HiCIBaS' launch
later this month

After a two-day truck ride between Québec QC and Timmins ON, the payload arrived to the launch site at the Timmins Victor M. Power Airport. The team members and collaborators will also gather at Timmins where the STRATOS Canadian stratopheric ballon launch site is located.

July 2018

with the Coronagraph Wavefront Sensor

From the latest results in the lab, the Coronagraphic Modal Wavefront Sensor successfully operates in closed-loop with the first twelve Zernike terms. This great achievement was realized by Chris de Jonge, the PhD student from SRON who’s working in strong collaboration with Université Laval’s HiCIBaS team during the final integration phase of the project.

June 2018

Poster presentations

This weeks, Master's student Guillaume Allain and Olivier Côté presented posters at SPIE Astronomical Instrumentation + Telescopes in Austin, USA. Their posters focused on the Low-order wavefront sensors first on-sky results and the system engineering behind the HiCIBaS mission respectively. It was also a great opportunity for Allain and Côté to attend scientific talks in the field of adaptive optics and airborne instrumentation for astronomy.

May 2018

Visit of our collaborators
from the Netherlands

Researcher Marcel Dijkstra and PhD student Chris De Jonge from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research visited us this month. SRON's contribution to HiCIBaS is to develop the software for the High-Constrast Imaging Instrument on board. Chris performed several tests and images acquisitions with the integrated optical bench to verify the readiness of the control software for the modal wavefront correction. He worked in collaboration with Marcel who was completing the integration between the hardware and software for the different instruments involved to achieve high contrast imaging. Overall, the tests with the integration system gave us a better understanding of which are the main parameters that needs to be optimized in order to achieve a better contrast.

April 2018

Reception of the
Telescope Mount

The Mount is here! The telescope's Alt-Az mount is now assembled and ready for the upcoming integration test at the end of May. We would like to thank OMP Inc. for their help in the design and final assembly of the mount. The optics box and accompanying optical mounts have also been delivered. Guillaume and Mireille are assembling the last pieces of the payload.

March 2018

Environmental Testing
of Telescope

Over the past week we were able to use one of Université Laval civil engineering environmental chamber in order to test the thermal focal drift that the telescope may experience during the flight. Having tested the telescope in controlled cold conditions, we are now able to compare our Zemax model of the telescope to real world data and confirm the optical design that was presented during the FDR. Moreover, having data on the time it takes to settle the telescope temperature will allow us to get a clearer idea to what we should expect during the flight

February 2018

Join us at SPIE AT+I
in Austin

Master's students Guillaume Allain and Olivier Côté will be presenting posters in June 2018 at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation in Austin, Texas! Meet Olivier to learn more about the HiCIBaS project (Paper 10702-153) and Guillaume to discover innovative Low order waveFront sensor (Paper 10703-196). More information is available in the Publications section.

January 2018

Final design

On the last week of january we held the final design review for most of the HiCiBaS subsystems at Université Laval. It was also the occasion for the core Université Laval team to meet with Leiden University partners (Frans Snik and David doelman from Leiden University and Chris de Jonge from SRON)and plan the following months with them. Also at the review was Fabien Dupont from Abb inc. and Christian Marois from NRC Herzberg and other partners from Leiden and CSA connected remotely. The review was the occasion to discuss solutions for thermal effects and hardware problems that may arise in the final testings of the system in the following months.

December 2017

Pointing system first
on-sky images

The core of our solution for guiding the telescope to the right star in the sky is a custom build solution for a “lost in space” star tracker. We are able to use the arrangement of the stars in the image and, with a pattern recognition routine, find the appropriate coordinates in a star catalogue that would explain such a pattern. After months of testing with computer simulations, we had the occasion to take a high quality picture using similar hardware that will be used on the final HiCIBaS system and successfully solve the “lost-in-space” quite effectively. The next steps are refining the algorithm and testing it with a closed loop with motors directly on sky.

November 2017

Qualification run
at OMM

In early November, members of the team were at the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic for the first on-sky testing of the low-order wavefront sensor (LOWFS) concept that will be used on the HiCIBaS system. The LOWFS was mounted on a new version of an adaptive optics test-bench developed here at Université Laval (see our proceeding about the last version). This instrument can take up to two difference wavefront sensors (a Shack-Hartmann sensor and a modified pyramid wavefront sensor (P-WFS) in our case) in order to compare the two. The PWFS was gladly provided by l'INO (here is a proceeding about the WFS) and was fitted with an axicon to emulate the system that will be used on board.