Space telescopes are unique equipment launched to better understand the universe. However, as amazing as they are, space telescopes need to undergo rigorous testing as it becomes extremely difficult to service them after launch. This is why NASA has come up with another prospect: to build the telescope mirror in space.
What Is Space Telescope?
Space telescopes, as the name suggests, are telescopes that are launched into an observatory in space to orbit. This allows astronomers and scientists to observe and click pictures of the universe without any atmospheric disturbance, generally found in ground telescopes.
As intriguing as they sound, it’s sheer hard work to get a telescope in space. It’s expensive to build, maintain and service, and also to launch the space telescope into space. Take for instance the Hubble Space Telescope, the flawed mirror has demonstrated that they need to go through extremely difficult checks and testing.
NASA’s Answers With Building Mirror In Space
NASA has come up with an answer to this: building the mirror of the telescope in space. For this, NASA would require a manufacturing technique called Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), where layers of material no thicker than an atom is deposited on a surface and then hardened in place. NASA-supported researchers have begun testing ALD in a space-like environment.
NASA researchers Vivek Dwivedi and Raymond Adomaitis from the University of Maryland have come up with a way to try building the telescope mirror in space. “We technologists think next-generation telescopes larger than 20 meters in diameter will be built and assembled in orbit. Instead of manufacturing the mirrors on the ground, why not print them in space?” said Dwivedi in NASA’s blog post.
The ALD process is quite common, where a layer of material is placed inside an oven-like reactor chamber and then treated with pulses of different types of gas. The ALD process forms a smooth and highly uniform film with layers with the thickness of a single atom. The method could be effective for space telescopes as it can be used to apply wavelength-specific reflective coatings onto a telescope’s mirror.
Will It Work?
For all we know, this new technique could work and we might have space-built telescopes in the near future. These machines can be sent via spaceships and constructed in space and further assembled there. There’s no definitive timeline yet, but the prospect sure sounds appealing.
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