Large beach balls: so will look like a new space telescopes

If we ever have a giant inflatable telescopes in space, unable to say thank you to mom Chris Walker. A few years ago, Walker did chocolate pudding, when suddenly he had to interrupt his culinary business and to call my mom. He removed the pudding from the heat, covered it with plastic wrap and put the pot on the floor beside the couch. After the conversation, he was surprised to find the picture of the bulb from the lamp nearby, hovering over the end of the couch. Examining the cause of this phenomenon, he found that pocket of cold air that formed during cooling of the pudding led to the sagging of plastic packaging to the pudding. In fact, it formed a lens which reflects light.

Inflatable telescope: how it works

“I thought it was cool, but it’s no use,” says Walker, a Professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. But 30 years later it has found application as the basis for the proposal, which was sent to NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, program funding a variety of aerospace ideas.

The essence of the proposal was to turn a giant inflatable beach ball in space telescope. Such sub-orbital balloon reflector will not be concerned with interference as terrestrial telescopes. In addition, it would be easy to scale, thus opening the vast expanses of the universe for observation without the hefty price tag associated with constructing large and strong telescopes.

The idea of creating a large air reflector has arisen in the result of the work of Walker over teragertsovogo stratospheric Observatory (Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory), one meter telescope attached to a high-altitude balloon, which for several weeks in 2012, flew in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica. Walker watched as the balloon is inflated 15 million cubic meters of helium, and it occurred to him that a balloon was a lot of blank space for such a small telescopes. It would be nice to use a balloon as an Observatory. This observation, combined with the memory of that incident with the pudding decades ago led to the creation of the first inflatable telescope.

In 2014, Walker and his students have produced the first prototype of the inflatable reflector of a large inflatable plastic sphere, sold to a Chinese toy manufacturer. This ball was designed to have people climb inside, however, it has found application in radio astronomy. Walker hung the antenna inside the bowl and sprayed in metallic paint to create a reflective surface. This primitive setup allowed Walker and his students to conduct radio observations of the sun from the roof of the astronomy building at the University of Arizona. And although he was not sent to the upper layers of the atmosphere, it was obvious that even a very simple version of a telescope can give good results.

How to operate inflatable telescopes?

Walker realized the true benefits from an inflatable spherical telescope will manifest in space. Traditional radio telescopes use a parabolic dish as reflectors, which collect the radiation and focus it at a certain point. Although, in principle it works, astronomers must move the whole plate so that it is pointed to a certain place, and it is inconvenient when the telescope is in space. Due to the design of the Walker, it is possible to point the telescope by moving the antenna inside the sphere, without moving the telescope as a whole. Spherical telescope also has a wide field of view, so it can visualize large portions of the universe without moving.

Inflatable telescope Walker — not the first time when NASA is interested in the beach balls in space. In the early 1960-ies, NASA launched Echo 1 and Echo 2, which was a massive reflectors that are able to passively reflect radio signals around the world. But no one ever used this concept for observing deep space. Proving that it is a large spherical reflector work, Walker received a grant to develop a space version of an inflatable telescope.

Thus was born the Terahertz Space Telescope — inflatable ball 40 meters in diameter with a controlled antenna inside. Since the gas pressure in space is very low, Walker said it could inflate to a massive telescope, using less gas — nitrogen or neon, because of the low temperatures of freezing than is required to inflate the balloon on the Ground. Obviously, space debris and micrometeoroid present a problem for inflatable objects in orbit, but Walker said a slow diffusion of gas in the telescope means that he was blown away, could take years.

The diameter of the telescope is about 25 meters. For comparison, the lens of the space telescope James Webb, the launch of which is scheduled for 2021, with a diameter of 6.5 meters. The price difference is even more significant: Walker is counting on the launch of the telescope will need $ 200 million, while the “James Webb” will cost $ 10 billion at the time of launch.

You only have to build it. If you succeed, Terahertz Space Telescope can observe the Universe using wavelengths, allowing him to detect the presence of water in deep space. This means that we can find asteroids with high water content in our Solar system or even water in the habitable zones of other solar systems.

Well, let’s follow the results of the Walker. But in the meantime subscribe to our channel so as not to miss.

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