It is on record that Galileo was probably the first scientist to gaze at the moon with a telescope 400 years ago, and his type of telescope has informed the design of space telescopes ever since, but that is about to change now, according to The Mail Online.
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Lockheed Martin, US defense contractor, wants to change the design and construction of space telescopes, preferring they contain several tiny lenses instead of the normal one large one. According to them, this new model will see telescopes reduce by nearly 10 to 100.
This project is being carried out under the Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance (SPIDER), funded by DARPA.
Ordinarily, since large telescopes cannot be launched into space to capture higher-resolution images (or rather, they’d be too expensive to do), scientists rely on bigger ground-based telescopes.
Danielle Wuchenich, senior research scientist at Lockheed Martin disclosed that “We can only scale the size and weight of telescopes so much before it becomes impractical to launch them into orbit beyond. Besides, the way our eye works is not the only way to process images from the world around us.”
In order to succeed at reducing the size of future telescopes, the SPIDER project aims at exploring a new model known as interferometry. With this technique, the telescope captures what your eyes can see (photons) by making use of several tiny lenses instead of heavier and bulkier lenses or mirrors used in conventional telescopes.
The tiny array of lenses utilize silicon-chip photonic integrated circuits which combines light to create interference fringes – and then the amplitude and phase of the fringes are measured in order to form a digital image.
According to the SPIDER team, the technology in use here could be likened to the concept that revolutionized old, larger TVs into a thin display that could be put up on home walls, producing far more superior digital experiences.
“What’s new is the ability to build interferometer arrays that have the same number of channels as a digital camera,” revealed Alan Duncan, senior fellow at Lockheed Martin. “They can take a snapshot, process it and there’s your image. It’s basically treating interferometer arrays like a point-and-shoot camera.”
The scientists behind this new concept are looking at making space telescopes that are either square or hexagonal in shapes rather than the conventional cylindrical shape, with the capacity to photograph space at a fraction of the cost. And it might even be hosted on a spacecraft as a payload, being mounted to the side of a spacecraft with average weight and size.
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According to Duncan, “SPIDER has the potential to enable exciting discoveries by putting high-resolution imaging systems within outer planet system orbits such as Saturn and Jupiter.”