Developing Low-Cost Giant Space Telescopes Adapted to Zero-G

By altering the very premise upon which all prior telescopes rely, The High Étendue Multiple Object Spectrographic Telescope (THE MOST) overcomes all of these problems: aperture, collection area, field-of-view, spectrographic performance, and compact size. Startling, THE MOST does it at lowered cost they proved in their NIAC Phase I. They proved that THE MOST could record a high-resolution spectrum for every object in a field-of-view that also happens to be 100 times greater than any prior astronomical telescope.

They point to Isaac Newton to make our case. At the same time that he used a primary objective spherical mirror to build astronomical his telescope, in his equally famous Double Prism Experiment, which Newton called his Crucial Experiment, Newton showed that if the light from a primary disperser passed through a tiny hole to a second disperser he saw a single color.

Newton used prisms as dispersers. We designed a flat compact telescope system where the primary objective is a modern day disperser, a diffraction grating. We have shown that spectra can be forced to appear near the grating plane itself, at what is called a “grazing angle.” After collection by a small mirror at this “grazing” angle, starlight is focused onto a slit and then, just like Newton’s experiment, dispersed again. The resulting image shows each object collected over an arc covering the entire sky appearing at a unique wavelength.. Astronomers call the wide arc a high “étendue” or “extension,” hence the name, “The High Étendue Multiple Object Spectrographic Telescope.”

THE MOST is particularly applicable to NASA, because the primary objective is a flat membrane surface with a minimal mass ideally suited for space deployment. Moreover, the membrane turns out to be highly tolerant of surface errors compared to mirrors. The delivery package is stored as a cylindrical roll which can withstand the shock of launch. On delivery, the primary and a secondary disperser can be installed on a 3D printed trusswork such as being developed by NIAC Fellow Rob Hoyt, a consultant in our proposal who has been tapped by DARPA to make such structures in earth orbit.

In their NASA NIAC phase II project they will build a laboratory model of THE MOST and a tightly controlled simulation of the sky to test it for efficiency (throughput), spatial resolution, spectral resolution, figure tolerance, and field-of-view. They have assembled a team of experienced astronomers and holographers to participate in the creation of the diffraction optics. They have created a laboratory facility for this work at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that has requisite components. The P.I. is unique in his background coming from the world of fine art where his films can be found in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and exhibited widely in museums such as the Whitney where he was named one of the 300 most influential American artists of the twentieth century. That said, he has also also served in optical engineering as a P.I. in two Phase II NSF projects and has now been made a Phase I Fellow of NIAC for this: the first entirely new optical telescope in over three centuries.

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