Among telescopes projects under way in 2009 are:
• A major upgrade of the 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, including two advanced detectors that will vastly improve its vision for another five years.
• A bigger European rival to Hubble called the Herschel Space Observatory.
• ALMA, an array of 50-plus telescopes on a lofty desert in Chile that will be the most powerful ground-based observation system to date.
• Kepler, an orbiting telescope designed specifically to look for inhabitable planets around distant stars.
• Pan-STARRS, a set of four interconnected telescopes to detect fast-moving hazardous objects, such as satellites or space rocks.
• IceCube, an upside-down space particle observatory buried under the ice at the South Pole.
• The Allen Telescope Array, a set of 42 of radio telescopes listening for extra-terrestrial messages from possible civilizations around another star.
The 140-foot-wide European Extremely Large Telescope, could make pictures of clouds, mountains and seas on distant planets. It’s now in the design stage, and construction might begin in 2010.
Better Rockets Would Help
Moderately better rockets like the Ares V will enable larger space telescopes to be launched.
Ares V is the rocket that will deliver NASA’s next manned lunar lander to the moon as well as all the cargo needed for a lunar base. Its roomy shroud could hold about eight school buses, and the rocket will pack enough power to boost almost 180,000 kg (396,000 lbs — about 16 or 17 school buses) into low Earth orbit. Ares V can haul six times more mass and three times the volume the space shuttle can.
Heavy Lift Rocket Able to handle 180 tons or so Enables …
Hubble is only 2.4 meters wide.
The Space Telescope Science Institute’s Marc Postman has been planning a 16-meter segmented optical/ultraviolet telescope called ATLAST, short for Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope. The science from an aperture its size would be spectacular. ATLAST would be nearly 2000 times more sensitive than the Hubble Telescope and would provide images about seven times sharper than either Hubble or James Webb.
Dan Lester of the University of Texas at Austin envisions another 16-meter telescope, this one for detecting far-infrared wavelengths. Lester’s Single Aperture Far-Infrared Telescope (‘SAFIR’ for short), comes in two flavors for the Ares V: an 8-meter monolithic version and a 16-meter segmented version.
Roger Brissenden of the Chandra X-ray Center is excited about the possibility of a future 8-meter-class X-ray telescope called Gen-X.