December 10, 2013
DARPA Is At Work Developing The Latest High-Tech Spy Satellite
[ Watch the video: DARPA MOIRE Concept Video ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) space telescope will be launched as a tightly packed cluster of petals 20 feet in diameter, helping it stretch out to 68 feet across. It will record the Earth’s surface with high resolution imagery, making it a big asset for the military, as well as weather forecasters and disaster response teams.
The program is addressing challenges that glass presents when trying to develop a large telescope. DARPA said MOIRE aims to create technologies that would enable future high-resolution orbital telescopes to provide real-time video and images of the Earth from a geosynchronous orbit, which is about 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface. These technologies would make orbital telescopes much lighter, more transportable and more cost-effective.
Since the time of Galileo Galilei, scientists have been using glass as mirrors in telescopes. The larger the resolution, the more glass is needed, making it both difficult and expensive to make.
“As the need for higher-resolution orbital imagery expands, glass mirrors are fast approaching the point where they will be too large, heavy and costly for even the largest of today’s rockets to carry to orbit,” DARPA said in a statement.
The futuristic military research agency said its MOIRE program will utilize lightweight polymer membrane optics to replace the glass mirrors. These optics have traditionally been too inefficient to use in telescope optics, but MOIRE has nearly doubled the efficiency, from 30 percent to 55 percent. This improved efficiency enabled MOIRE to take the first images ever with membrane optics.
“Membrane optics could enable us to fit much larger, higher-resolution telescopes in smaller and lighter packages,” Lt. Col. Larry Gunn, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. “In that respect, we’re ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ that traditional materials impose on optics design. We’re hoping our research could also help greatly reduce overall costs and enable more timely deployment using smaller, less expensive launch vehicles.”
Each of the membrane optics serve as a Fresnel lens that comes equipped with a diffractive pattern that focuses light on a sensor which the satellite translates into an image. DARPA said this telescope would be the largest ever made and would dwarf the glass mirrors contained in the world’s most famous telescopes.
The telescope optics would not only cover a huge swath of Earth, but DARPA said it would be able to focus on a six-by-six mile area at a resolution of three feet and could provide real-time video at one frame per second.
DARPA said this telescope could help redefine how scientists build, launch and use orbital telescopes in the future.