Lockheed Martin Shrinks the Telescope
Vincent Charbonneau posted on August 29, 2017 | 1313 views

Lockheed Martin has released the first set of images captured by its Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance (SPIDER) telescope. The experimental and extremely compact telescope is a proof of concept intended to demonstrate that space telescopes can be dramatically shrunk without losing image resolution.

The SPIDER project is a promising development for the space and optics industries. Weighing 90 percent less than the average telescope, SPIDER would allow current spacecraft to carry more instrumental payloads into orbit. The size of space vehicles could also be reduced, decreasing the amount of resources needed for spaceflight.

SPIDER operates by utilizing tiny lenses to feed optical data that is divided and recombined in a photonic integrated circuit (PIC). The system’s chips, originally designed for telecommunications at the University of California, Davis, have been reengineered by Lockheed Martin using a technique called interferometric imaging.

These images (measured in millimeters) were captured during one of SPIDER’s trial runs. The first test used a standard optical test pattern, and the second test used an aerial photo of a train yard. (Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin.)
These images (measured in millimeters) were captured during one of SPIDER’s trial runs. The first test used a standard optical test pattern, and the second test used an aerial photo of a train yard. (Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin.)

The testing phase during SPIDER’s development involved a PIC aligned to a series of 30 lenses, each less than a millimeter across. Additionally, an optical system simulated the distance from space to the ground, where scenes were illuminated and rotated.

“This is generation-after-next capability we're building from the ground up,” said Scott Fouse, vice president of the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “Our goal is to replicate the same performance of a space telescope in an instrument that is about an inch thick. That's never been done before. We're on our way to make space imaging a low-cost capability so our customers can see more, explore more and learn more.”

The SPIDER telescope is still in the early stages of development. Lockheed Martin’s team has indicated that the lenses and PIC constitute one section of a full instrument that will be assembled in the project’s next phase.

The initial results were presented at the Pacific Rim Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO-Pacific Rim) in Singapore. Initial funding and research for SPIDER was provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Each telescopic innovation improves our understanding of the universe. To learn more about other space telescope projects that are currently underway, check out James Webb Telescope Begins Cryogenic Testing.

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