NASA's long-term plans for space telescopes are quite large; in fact, next-generation telescopes will be massive.
Apart from our solar system, there are more than 3,900 confirmed planets. To know more about these planets, whether they have oxygen, water or other signs of life, we need larger telescopes with very sensitive instruments and mirrors as large as those found in Earth observatories to keep their components strong enough to keep foreign bodies well to recognize. A new study published this week in the Astronomical Journal describes a system that would use a second satellite, such as a laser light pointer, to help large telescopes attack distant objects.
Laser Light Show
NASA is already planning the future of space telescopes. The delays-strained James Webb telescope was constructed with a diameter of 6.5 meters and 1
MIT engineers are now proposing to use a second shoebox satellite as a "beacon", providing the telescopes with a constant bright light as a reference point. By placing the light in the field of view of a telescope, the telescope can better detect a displacement of its instruments and remain more safely focused on its target. Such a system is already possible with today's technology and would align the need for perfecting the mirrors, saving time and money, and possibly avoiding delays imposed on the James Webb telescope.
The Idea of Using Art Light as a reference point refers to the way astronomers on the ground have been using real stars for over a century for nearly the same purpose. This would be the first time that a small CubeSat could be used to replicate the process in space.
"This is so important now, because over the next few years, NASA will have to decide whether these large space telescopes will be our priority over the next decades," said Ewan Douglas, the newspaper's lead author. "This decision-making is now happening, as is the decision-making process for the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1960s, but it was not launched until the 1990s." Satellites could be "guiding stars" for huge next-generation telescopes [EurkAlert]