New visions for space telescopes
Unexpected hand-me-downs can bring opportunity, like the the piles of Scientific American and Sky & Telescope that came with a house my family rented when I was in high school. Astronomers and NASA scientists are pondering what to do with the windfall. The f/8 Cassegrain telescopes lack instruments, electronics, or spacecraft, but NRO long ago paid for the optics, saving NASA serious money. The Study on Applications for Large Space Optics workshop held February 5 and 6, 2013, in Huntsville, AL heard and discussed 34 proposals for building new instruments around the mirrors. They will be narrowed to six proposals and submitted to NASA management in May.
The range of ideas is impressive. Adaptive optics can do wonders on the ground , but ultraviolet astronomy must remain above the atmosphere, so three proposals call for studying the ultraviolet sky. Other common themes are spectroscopy, planetary science inside the solar system, and attempts to image challenging targets including extrasolar planets.
|Bare-bones surplus telescopes inherited by NASA (Government work not subject to copyright)|
Some proposals are intriguing. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ) envisions the Mars Orbiting Space Telescope, and Zachary Bailey of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) proposes "high-resolution surface science at Mars." Rebecca Farr of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL) proposes using both mirrors as a deep-space binocular telescope stationed at the Lunar L2 Lagrange point.
Not everything is exactly a telescope. Abhijit Biswas of JPL wants to use a mirror as an optical communications node in space. J. H. Clemmons of the Aerospace Corp. (El Segundo, CA) wants to use one in a lidar to explore the Earth's thermosphere. Richard Eastes of the University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL) has a plan for "Atmospheric TeleConnections on Earth."
There are plenty more listed on the program , and NASA will be recording the proceedings for later viewing. The ideas are not fully formed, of course, and some seem to duplicate others. But there are enough bright ideas to make one hope that NRO can find more goodies sitting in storage for its needy relatives.