Optical Engineering to Enable Next-Generation Telescopes

Astronomical advances are largely coupled with technological ones.

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In a new publication from Opto-Electronic Advances; DOI 10.29026/oea.2021.210040, researchers led by Professor Daewook Kim from the University of Arizona consider advances in optical engineering for future telescopes.

Astronomical advances are largely coupled with technological improvements -- from the invention of the first optical telescope used by Galileo in 1609 and for the foreseeable future, astronomy and optical engineering will be forever linked. This paper summarizes several advances that will enable future telescopes to expand scientific understanding of the universe. Significant optical engineering advances at the University of Arizona are being made for design, fabrication, and construction of next-generation astronomical telescopes. This paper focuses on the technological advances in four key areas:

  • Optical fabrication techniques used for constructing next-generation telescope mirrors.
  • Advances in ground-based telescope alignment control and instrumentation, including laser truss-based active alignment of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) prime focus camera and the MOBIUS (Mask-Oriented Breadboard Implementation for Unscrambling Spectra) cross-dispersion spectroscopy unit used at the prime focal plane of the LBT.
  • Topological pupil segment optimization.
  • Future space telescope concepts and enabling technologies. Namely, the Nautilus space observatory requires precise alignment of segmented, multi-order diffractive optical elements. The OASIS (Orbiting Astronomical Satellite for Investigating Stellar Systems) terahertz space telescope presents unique challenges for characterizing the sag of the inflatable primary mirror. The Hyperion space telescope pushes the limits of high spectral resolution, far-UV spectroscopy. The CDEEP (Coronagraphic Debris and Exoplanet Exploring Pioneer) is a SmallSat mission concept for high-contrast imaging of circumstellar disks and exoplanets using a vector vortex coronagraph. These advances in optical engineering technologies will help mankind to survey, explore, and understand the scientific beauty of our universe.

A diverse selection of ground-based and space-based future telescope technologies are actively being conceptualized, designed, prototyped, and demonstrated at the University of Arizona. Associate Professor Daewook Kim has been leading the Large Optics Fabrication and Testing (LOFT) group of researchers, who investigate freeform optical system design, highly-aspheric optical surface figure manufacturing challenges, and dynamic metrology system developments. Professor Kim and his LOFT peers have published more than 150 publications as of 2021.

Computer Controlled Optical Surfacing (CCOS) process enhancements by the LOFT group enable efficient production of future optical elements. New engineering technologies will upgrade and expand the capabilities of existing large ground-based or space-based telescopes. This suite of optical technologies serves the next generation of astronomical investigations by offering novel and practical approaches that the wider design and engineering community will benefit from. It is Professor Kim's hope that these contributions in design and instrumentation will not only provide new benchmarks for modern astronomy but will also precipitate the next great insights and questions about our universe.

Professor Kim continues to coordinate with various flagship ground-based and space-based telescope missions using existing infrastructure and is working in close collaboration with the facilities' directors, staff, and scientists. He considers it essential to maintain the LOFT group's international contribution and academic service to the optics community for the next generation of advanced optical system design, manufacturing/testing, and engineering by continuously researching, developing, and applying innovative and advanced optical technologies.

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