Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military’s futuristic research agency, is ready to “break the glass ceiling” of space telescopes by aiming for a new design into orbit that’s made of plastic instead of traditional glass and unfolds into a mammoth space telescope.
DARPA’s new program is called Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE). The new orbital telescope will be bigger and lighter than previous imaging satellites, making it easier to spy on larger areas and for longer periods of time.
DARPA’s MOIRE CONCEPT
This giant telescope could view approximately 40 percent of the earth’s surface at once.
It will be a tightly packed cluster of petals having diameter of 20 feet. MOIRE stretches to 68 feet across. After its launch it will be placed 22,000 miles above the earth. From orbit, this giant telescope could view approximately 40 percent of the earth’s surface at once. It will be able to record high resolution images and video, making it the ultimate spying satellite. However it could also be beneficial in weather forecasting and disaster response.
High resolution imagery was not possible with the traditional large diameter mirrors because of its thickness and weight. Also it was quite expensive to implement such technology in Space Telescopes. According to DARPA – “The glass mirrors are rapidly approaching the point where they will be too large, heavy and costly for even the largest of today’s rockets.”
“Membrane optics could enable us to fit much larger, higher-resolution telescopes in smaller and lighter packages,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gunn, Darpa program manager, in a statement. “In that respect, we’re ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ that traditional materials impose on optics design.”
Instead of reflecting light with mirrors or refracting it with lenses as traditional space telescopes do, MOIRE’s membrane uses concept of optics diffraction. And because MOIRE is so much lighter and smaller at launch, budget wise it will be much more efficient.
“We’re hoping our research could also help greatly reduce overall costs and enable more timely deployment using smaller, less expensive launch vehicles,” said Gunn.
According to DARPA, the MOIRE program is in its second and final phase and recently demonstrated a ground-based prototype.