Future space telescopes: what awaits us after “James Webb” and WFIRST?

Space telescope “Hubble” is working for the benefit of science for the past more than 28 years, expanding the horizons of our understanding of the Universe and discovering new exoplanets, some of which may be inhabited. To test this we can not yet, but in the future we will have such an opportunity. Telescope “James Webb” (JWST), which should replace the Hubble, all will not be going into space. The project is more advanced telescope, NASA WFIRST, which needs to go into space in the mid 2020-ies was almost canceled, but accepted at the time the budget has retained the support of the program. However, in development there are other telescopes that will be able to outperform and “James Webb” and WFIRST.

Telescope “James Webb” in the sterile workshop Assembly Space center NASA’s Johnson in Houston (USA)

Recall that the launch of the long-suffering “James Webb” is once again postponed. Now in may 2020. Now engineers carry out testing and trying to solve the problem. And the problem, it is necessary to tell directly, reach the point of absurdity. Well, what to say, if one of the last briefings concerning the status of the Assembly heard the words “it rained nuts and bolts”? The project has already invested more than $ 8 billion. Do not be surprised if by 2020, the budget will not increase even a couple of billion.

Wide-range infrared telescope (WFIRST). Needs 100 times exceed the capabilities of Hubble (has 100 times wider viewing angle) and promises to tackle cutting-edge issues in cosmology and the study of exoplanets. Its coronagraph will observe exoplanets directly and study its atmosphere. If all goes according to plan and the launch will not carry (in that little hard to believe), the telescope will go into space somewhere in the middle of the 2020-ies.

But today we are not interested in these telescopes. Today we look further into the future and analyze the telescopes that are planned (at least would like) to run somewhere in the 2030-ies, that is, after the telescopes of the new generation mentioned above.

HabEx

The first telescope, which is worth paying attention to, is HabEx (Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission, “the Mission to search for habitable exoplanets”). This space Observatory, in theory, be able to conduct a direct survey of exoplanets orbiting other stars. Its purpose would be a variety of planets ranging from hot Jupiters to “supertelly”. The main task will be to find earth-like planets and study their atmospheres.

Research the worlds will be conducted through the analysis of light waves, a feature change which would speak about the planet one way or another biosphere

For observing the planets HabEx will need some way to block the light of stars that can be seen less bright planets located around them. This can be done in two ways.

For the first need a coronagraph, which is a by and large artificial blocking screen mounted inside the telescope and closing it from the rays of star light. In this case, the remaining light may be reflected from other objects located near the star and can be caught by a special detector. The presence of the telescope mirrors with variable reflection surface and the subsequent fine tuning will allow you to see who is the star of the planet.

An example of using the coronagraph installed on the VLT telescope of the European southern Observatory can be viewed below. The Central star is a double star system HR 4796A in Centaurus is hidden, allowing you to see around her a protoplanetary disk.

And this is probably one of the coolest images in the entire history of astronomy. Using one of the telescopes Keck Observatory (Hawaii) was able to capture four planets the size of Jupiter orbiting the young star HR 8799 dot in the constellation Pegasus. The image created on the basis of images obtained at different times of the observations. But it looks no less impressive.

The second method would be to use a separate Starshade spacecraft in the shape of a sunflower, which will fly tens of thousands of kilometers from the telescope, and then open up and block the light of the star of interest, allowing monitoring of existing planets around it. The design feature of the Starshade allows you to create a very dark shadow, providing the best overview on the object of interest.

The artistic representation of the prototype Starshade – a giant structure designed to block the bright light of the stars and subsequent observations using telescopes for near their planets

Another amenity of the Starshade is that the device in theory can be used with almost any space Observatory.

Currently the most effective and affordable method of discovering new ekzoplanet is a transit search method or the method of calculating radial velocities. However, thanks to these telescopes, HabEx the planets will become possible to observe directly.

In addition to its main task of finding and studying exoplanets, HabEx will be engaged and questions of astrophysics, for example, watching the light from the early Universe, or studying the chemical composition of large stars before and after their collapse in a supernova.

Lynx

The next telescope is Lynx – x-ray telescope NASA the new generation. Surprisingly the name of the device is not an acronym. It is named after a feline – lynx (English “lynx”). In many cultures animals are considered to be lynx with the supernatural ability to see the true nature of things.

X-rays are at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum (located between ultraviolet radiation and gamma radiation) and blocked by earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, in order to see them, needed a telescope located in space. At the moment the flagship x-ray telescope is a Space x-ray Observatory Chandra NASA. The European space Agency is about to launch in 2028 your x-ray telescope ATHENA.

The concept of the x-ray telescope Lynx

It is planned that the Lynx will work as a partner to the telescope “James Webb”, peering at the edge of the observable Universe, revealing the secrets of the emergence of the first supermassive black holes and helping to make a picture of the nature of their formation and merging over time. He will also be able to observe the emission coming from hot gas in the early cosmic web, collecting data about how was formed the first stars and galaxies.

Then Lynx will be used to study objects that were involved in Chandra, XMM Newton, and other x-ray telescopes: of pulsars, black holes are explored, supernovas, black holes and more. Even ordinary stars can create flares of x-ray radiation, and hence they become the objects of study.

The main part of the Universe is concentrated in clouds of gas, heated to a million degrees Kelvin. And if we want to see the Universe as it really is, we need to monitor the x-ray wavelength range.

X-ray telescopes differ from space-based observatories such as the Hubble space telescope operating in the visible wavelength range. Here you cannot use an ordinary mirror, which will hit x-rays. Instead, focus the rays it is necessary to use grazing-incidence mirror that allows you to redirect them falling into photons in the detector.

Artistic representation Space x-ray Observatory “Chandra”. At the moment it is the most sensitive x-ray telescope

Through the use of three-meter outer mirror Lynx will be 50-100 times more sensitive, will receive 16 times more angle and be able to catch photons of 800 times faster than Chandra.

Origins Space Telescope

Next comes the Origins Space Telescope, or simply OST. A sort of “James Webb on steroids”, which should replace the telescope “Spitzer”. “James Webb” has a 6.5-meter mirror, but with a 9.1-metre mirror the sensitivity of the telescope Space Telescope Origins should be 30 times greater than the sensitivity of “James Webb”. It is planned that the unit will operate in the infrared wavelength range and to observe the most interesting objects in the Universe.

Artistic representation of the telescope Space Telescope Origins (OST)

The telescope is not only huge, but also very cold. Space Agency NASA has managed to cool the telescope “Spitzer” to a temperature of 5 Kelvin. It is only 5 degrees Celsius above absolute zero and slightly warmer than the temperature of the background radiation of the Universe. Thanks to a special cooling system engineers plan OST cooling to 4 Kelvin. The gap sounds small, but from a technical point of view it is a very difficult task.

Instead of cooling the device with liquid helium, as was done with the telescope “Spitzer”, every detail of the Origins Space Telescope must be cooled in stages, starting with mirrors, sinks and ending with kriokamera set up around of the instruments themselves.

With a huge cold infrared telescope planned study of the processes of the formation of galaxies, stars and planets, and the search for water and greenhouse gases in the atmospheres of exoplanets and the study of interstellar dust.

The above three projects is to promote the science of astronomy forward and increase our knowledge of the Universe. But the biggest and coolest project is waiting for you below.

LUVOIR

Telescope “James Webb” will be a very powerful tool. But the work apparatus is in the infrared wavelength range, in order to follow up on the colder objects and phenomena in the Universe, like the red shift of the first galaxies or the newly-forming planetary systems. Origins telescope Space Telescope aims to become a more advanced version of the telescope “James Webb”.

Telescope LUVOIR (Large UV Optical IR Surveyor), in turn, will be the real successor of Hubble. This huge device will be able to observe in the visible, ultraviolet and near infrared spectrum.

Artistic concept of the telescope LUVOIR

In development are two conceptual design for the telescope. According to the first, the apparatus will be equipped with a folding 8-foot mirror and put into orbit using a rocket-heavy class vehicle, the Falcon Heavy. According to another concept, the telescope will be equipped with a mirror with a diameter of 16 metres (for comparison the diameter of the mirror of Hubble is only 2.6 meters), which is 50% more than the largest ground-based telescope of the same class. In the second case it is planned to launch with the help of the carrier rocket Space Launch System. Which version will eventually choose will depend on carrier rockets to be used in 2030.

The device will get wide angle view and will be equipped with a wide range of different tools and filters that astronomers can use to monitor anything. For example, the telescope will be equipped with a coronagraph, which was mentioned above, therefore, the unit will be able to observe the planets, the “muting” light of their home stars. The presence of the spectrograph will allow him to analyze the chemical composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets.

LUVOIR is to become a great universal tool designed for great discoveries in the fields of astrophysics and planetary science. Among its potential: direct observation of exoplanets and the search for biosignature. The telescope will be able to search the planet for the different classes, ranging from hot Jupiters to “supersense”. In addition, LUVOIR will enable observation of objects in the Solar system to a completely different level.

Enceladus, as it saw “Hubble” (left) and as it will be LUVOIR (right)

If you wish, we can look into any corner of the Universe, expanding the horizons of its apparent magnitude, as well as to examine much smaller objects, which were not able to see “Hubble”. Using LUVOIR research will be conducted the first galaxies and stars, and calculations of the distribution of dark matter in the Universe.

Scientists are still unable to fully understand what happens when a star gains enough mass to ignite. LUVOIR will be able to look in the direction zvezdoobrazovaniya regions to consider the gas and dust of the earliest moment of the birth of stars and planets that they will be surrounded.

Dreams and reality

The above devices have fueled your enthusiasm for the future of astronomy? Do not hurry to rejoice. The sad news is that presented in today’s article space telescopes have virtually no chance to one day become our eyes, watching the distant frontiers of space horizon.

At the beginning of this month, space Agency NASA has announced that it intends to limit the appetite of the planners of the projects on creation of new space telescopes and reduces budgets razrabotkoj to 3-5 billion dollars. Up to this point engineers have not even thought about any sort of recommendations, plans for budget and other bureaucratic things, they just designed new devices that will be able to bring science to a new level.

The budget of the same telescopes HabEx, Lynx and OST estimates can easily cross the bar of $ 5 billion. And about the same LUVOIR will have to forget – the cost of its creation can easily cross the mark of 20 billion dollars.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Congress has insisted that NASA has received more funds for development, itself space Agency decided how to restrain their appetites and the appetites of its contractors. And when you consider how much over budget resulted in the creation of an advanced space telescope “James Webb” and how he fared now, it becomes quite clear why NASA decided to take this step.

Initially, the project development “James Webb” was estimated at between 1.6 and 3.5 billion dollars. Under this budget unit planned to start in the period from 2007 to 2011. Currently the launch is scheduled at the earliest — in may 2020. The development budget according to the estimation of Congress is already at 8.8 billion dollars, and after 2 years may increase to 10. It would be a mistake to think that only we can “cut” the budget. But, it’s not so bad. The main problem is how irresponsible the main contractors engaged in the Assembly of the apparatus.

The last vibration test, engineers found that the telescope spilling screws and washers. At the moment we are not talking about building a dresser from IKEA, where in this case we could simply say: “it will do”. We are talking about the telescope, for nearly $ 9 billion.

Financial appetites are growing not only among the creators of the space telescope “James Webb”. When the original estimate of $ 2 billion, the current estimated cost of developing the telescope WFIRST is already $ 3.9 billion.

Simple, the researchers hope that these devices will eventually be launched into orbit. Whether this will happen until mid-2030-ies, as originally planned in the programs? We need a miracle. At this miracle and remains to trust researchers who believe that these vehicles will be able to make new important discoveries in astronomy.

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