Adventures In Deep Space

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Applications: Interferometric Telescope Constellations

October 14, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

As my partner and I have dug into the question of how the ability to build inexpensive satellites in volume could be of use (which indirectly relates to the fundamental question any startup must answer: "Who is the customer?") it has occured to us that a space-based interferometric telescope array is a very logical (and cool) application of our technology (see linked PDF for an intro to the concept from the European Southern Observatory / ESO).

Perhaps the most famous instance of this is the Very Large Array in Arizona, which dates back to the 1960s in concept. 28 separate radio telescopes (including a spare) mounted on rails and periodically rearranged for observational purposes. Another now famous example of this is the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), used to image black holes (for the first time) at the center of nearby galaxies, and featured in a Netflix documentary, Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know".

Imagine, instead of a Earth sized "virtual telescope" (such as the EHT), a solar system sized one--or at least, a 1 AU sized one. A "telescope" not obstructed and compromised by having to deal with the earth's atmosphere (i.e., no bright "guide stars" required to make observations, no critical radio frequencies blocked). One that can be expanded on an onging basis as more satellites are added, and that isn't subject to single points of failure or require maintenance and fixes if something goes wrong.

An interferometric telescope of this sort, while not exactly equivalent to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) or Hubble (to cite perhaps the most obvious comparisons), could be deployed at a fraction of the cost, while being more robust, having built in functional redundancy, and unlike JWST, effectively serviceable by sending up new (and better) satellites to replace failed components. It would also be dynamically reconfigurable (far more easily than something like the VLA), so that, depending on the application, parts of it could be pointing at different targets at the same time, only on a much larget scale), if the full array wasn't necessary to do useful science (much like the European Southern Observatory's VLT).

From a business perspective, this provides an immediate and tangible application that simply extends what is already being done (science) both in space and on earth, as opposed to still theoretical applications (which we strongly believe are viable and will happen) such as space mining for water and or minerals.

See our Short List of Inteferometric Telescopes page for links to more information.

Tags: applications, interferometry, telescopes, astronomy