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SPIE Professional January 2012

Special Optical Engineering section on space telescopes

R&D Highlights: Recommendations

By Gwen Weerts

Optical EngineeringIn the past two decades, the Hubble and other space telescopes have facilitated many discoveries in astrophysics and advanced our understanding of the Earth. Now, a new generation of space telescopes and observatories are making exciting discoveries.

The SPIE journal Optical Engineering is publishing a special section on space telescopes in January, focusing on research to enable the next generation of space telescopes for astrophysics and Earth science.

Guest editors are Mark Clampin of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (USA) and Kathryn Flanagan of the Space Telescope Science Institute (USA), one of two symposium chairs for SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation. They have gathered papers from researchers at the forefront of astronomical optics projects, including the James Webb Space Telescope, the X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton), the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Papers span design considerations, instrumentation, X-ray astronomy, and gamma ray telescopes and other optics technologies, along with an overview of learned experience from more than 20 years of the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. They are the first six of 18 segments that will form JWST's primary mirror for space observations. Engineers began final round-the-clock cryogenic testing to confirm that the mirrors will respond as expected to the extreme temperatures of space prior to integration into the telescope's permanent housing structure. Funding for JWST was uncertain for much of 2011, but the U.S. House of Representatives approved a NASA budget in November. The JWST is scheduled to launch in 2018.

"The design and implementation of space telescopes brings many of the optical science disciplines together with a broad range of other engineering disciplines such as mechanical, materials, and thermal engineering," Clampin says. "Space telescopes represent excellent case studies of complex engineering systems in which optics play a central role."

Recommended paper in Optical Engineering

Clampin recommends the paper, "Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST): science drivers and technology developments," by Marc Postman and colleagues at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The paper in the special section of Optical Engineering presents an interesting view of the future of large space telescopes for the ultraviolet, optical, and infrared. Scientists hope that data from the ATLAST telescope may one day answer the fundamental question, "Is there life elsewhere in the galaxy?"

ATLAST is a concept for an 8- to 16-m ultraviolet optical near infrared space observatory for launch in the 2025 to 2030 era.

The paper presents a range of science drivers and the resulting performance requirements for ATLAST (8- to 16-marcsec angular resolution, diffraction limited imaging at 0.5-μm wavelength, minimum collecting area of 45  m2, high sensitivity to light wavelengths from 0.1 to 2.4 μm, high stability in wavefront sensing and control).

It also discusses what's needed to enable the construction of ATLAST for a cost that is comparable to that of current generation observatory-class space missions.

Subscribers to Optical Engineering (and/or the SPIE Digital Library) can access the abstracts and papers in this special section online.


Movie stars

his vast canyon of dust and gas in the Orion Nebula is from a 3D computer model based on observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and created by science visualization specialists at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

This vast canyon of dust and gas in the Orion Nebula is from a 3D computer model based on observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and created by science visualization specialists at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

A 3D visualization of this model takes viewers on an amazing four-minute voyage through the 15-light-year-wide canyon and the Orion Nebula, a vast star-making factory light-years away.

This cinematic space odyssey is part of the new IMAX film Hubble 3D, which chronicles the 20-year life of Hubble.

The giant-screen film showcases some of Hubble's iconic pictures, such as the Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation," as well as stunning views taken by the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201201.17

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