Self-Assembling Space Telescope Eyes Discovery of New Exoplanets

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Self-Assembling Space Telescope

Sure, it sounds kind of far out: a modular space telescope, nearly 100 feet across, composed of individual units launched as ancillary payloads on space missions over a period of months and years, units that will navigate autonomously to a pre-determined point in space and self-assemble.

But "far out" is exactly what Dmitry Savransky, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, and 15 other scientists from across the U.S. have been asked to give NASA for Phase I of its 2018 NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) program.

Savransky's vision for his self-assembling space telescope is all about seeing deep into space to discover new extra-solar planets -- planets outside our solar system, also known as exoplanets -- and map the surfaces of those we've already seen.

Self-assembly provides a path to the construction of a space telescope the size of which would be infeasible using current design and assembly techniques, such as those for the Hubble and James Webb telescopes. Those telescopes have primary mirrors, the instrument's "eyes," of 2.4 meters and 6.5 meters, respectively; Savransky's would have a mirror in excess of 30 meters.

Phase I concepts cover a wide range of innovations selected for their potential to revolutionize future space exploration. Phase I awards, announced March 30, are valued at approximately $125,000 over nine months to support each scientist's initial definition and analysis of concepts.

If these feasibility studies are successful, award recipients can apply for Phase II awards.

Savransky is looking forward to the NIAC Orientation Meeting, June 5-6 in Washington, D.C., where he will get to meet with the other Phase I winners and talk about their ideas, which include a shape-shifting Moon rover, a wing-flapping Mars explorer and a steam-powered autonomous ocean robot.

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