NASA plans for next generation space telescopes

NASA teams are currently studying next-generation space telescopes for the 2020 Decadal Survey for Astrophysics.

The next-generation space telescopes will be able to find and analyze of extraterrestrial biospheres and increase sensitivity by up to 1000 times on certain wavelengths.

Nextbigfuture confident that the SpaceX BFR will be built which will allow for space telescopes that have 30 to 100 times the light collecting area of the Hubble.

1. LUVOIR (Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor), now being studied by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is conceived as a great observatory in the tradition of the Hubble Space Telescope. LUVOIR will tell the story of life by searching for signs of life on exoplanets and exploring the cosmic origins of life. Its specific capabilities will span exoplanetary science, general astrophysics, and solar system science. As its name implies, LUVOIR would cover wavelengths from the far ultraviolet to the near infrared and its primary mirror could be up to six times larger than Hubble’s.

The Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor concept is based on a mirror from 8 meter to 18 meter in diameter, and covering the ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths. It would be a Large Strategic Science Mission and be up for selection sometime after 2020.

The larger 18 meter diameter would be if it was launched by the Space Launch System or the SpaceX BFR.

LUVOIR would be able to analyze the structure and composition of exoplanets’ surface, and image faint circumstellar disks to provide insights on how planets form. It would also detect biosignatures on distant exoplanets’ atmospheres. Atmospheric biosignatures of interest include CO2, CO, molecular oxygen (O2), ozone (O
3), water (H2O), and methane (CH4).

LUVOIR’s multi-wavelength capability would help understanding how host star’s UV radiation regulates the atmospheric photochemistry on habitable planets

2. Origins Space Telescope (OST) is a concept study for the Far-Infrared Surveyor space telescope mission. Still a preliminary concept in formulation, it will be presented to the United States Decadal Survey in 2019 for a possible selection to NASA’s Flagship Program.

The Origins Space Telescope would perform astrometry and astrophysics in the mid- to far-infrared range by using a filled aperture telescope with an effective diameter likely between 8 m and 15 m. The telescope will require cryocooler systems to actively cool detectors at ∼50 mK and the telescope optics at ∼4 K. It will attain sensitivities 100–1000 times greater than any previous far-infrared telescope.

Targeting exoplanet observations in the 6–40 μm wavelength range, it will measure the temperatures and search for basic chemical ingredients for life in the atmospheres of small, warm planets at habitable temperatures (∼300 K (27 °C)) and measure their atmospheric composition. This may be accomplished by a combination of transit spectroscopy and direct coronagraphic imaging. Important atmospheric diagnostics include spectral bands of ammonia (NH4, a unique tracer of nitrogen), the 9 μm ozone line (ozone, O3 is a key biosignature), the 15 μm CO2 band (carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas), and many water wavelength band.