Tag Archives: space telescopes

Telescopes of the future

Two stories were published on Thursday about two very different future space telescopes. Both are worthwhile, but the differences between them illustrate how the industry of space astronomy — like manned space — is evolving from Big Science and government to small, efficient, and privately built.

First there is this story describing how the nonprofit B612 Foundation’s project to launch an infrared telescope by 2017 had passed its first technical review.
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The military has given NASA two Cold War era spy space telescopes with mirrors comparable to Hubble’s.

Big news: The military has given NASA two Cold War era spy space telescopes with mirrors comparable to Hubble’s.

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

Since astronomers have over the past dozen years been remarkably uninterested in launching a replacement for Hubble, they now find themselves in a situation where they might have no optical capabilities at all in space. Hubble is slowing dying from age, and NASA doesn’t have the money to build a new optical space telescope, especially since with any new space telescope proposal the astronomical community has had the annoying habit of demanding more sophistication than NASA can afford.

This announcement however might just save astronomy from becoming blind. Because these spy telescopes are already half built, it will be difficult to add too many bells and whistles. Hire a launch rocket, build the cameras and spectrographs based on the instruments already on Hubble, and get the things in orbit quickly.

NASA management yesterday extended funding for almost all of its on-going astrophysics missions, including Hubble, Kepler, Chandra, and Fermi.

NASA management yesterday extended funding for all but one of its on-going astrophysics missions, including Hubble, Kepler, Chandra, and Fermi.

According to a statement from NASA headquarters, all missions will continue in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The guest observer programme for the Chandra X-ray Observatory would even be augmented. Only Spitzer, an infrared telescope, would be phased out earlier than the mission wanted, in 2015.

There is some justification for ending Spitzer’s funding early, as the spacecraft’s cameras have lost their ability to stay as cold as designed to do their full range of infrared observations.