(ORDO NEWS) — The Hubble Space Telescope has a primary mirror measuring 2.4 meters. The Nancy Grace Roman Telescope also has a 2.4 meter mirror, while the James Webb Space Telescope has a huge 6.5 meter primary mirror. They do the job they were made to do, but what if… we could have even bigger mirrors?
The larger the mirror, the more light it collects. This means that with the help of large mirrors, we can look far into the past to observe the formation of stars and galaxies, get direct images of exoplanets and find out what dark matter is.
But the process of creating a mirror is very complicated and takes time. The mirror blank is cast to obtain the base shape.
The glass then needs to be tempered by heating and slowly cooling. The glass is then ground and polished to perfect shape, after which the lens is tested and coated. It’s not too bad for small lenses, but we want more. A lot more.
The idea was to use liquids to create lenses in space that would be 10 to 100 times larger. And it will take much less time to make them than to create glass lenses.
The FLUTE, or Fluidic Telescope Experiment, is being led by principal investigator Edward Balaban at the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The experiment involves researchers from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as well as researchers from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.
Their goal is to make it possible to manufacture liquid lenses in space that are not only larger than their glass counterparts, but also as good or optically better than Earth lenses. And it can be done in a fraction of the time.
In space, the fluid eventually forms a perfect spherical shape. However, in order to test the process first, they stopped closer to home and used water as a medium to create liquid lenses.
They had to make sure that the water had the same density as the liquid polymers they used to create the lenses so that the effect of gravity was negated. Without any mechanical processes, the polymers were injected into circular frames immersed in water and then cured to create lenses comparable or better than standard methods.
The team then went on two ZeroG parabolic flights to further test the process. Synthetic oils of various viscosities have been tested to determine which one will work best.
These oils were pumped into round frames the size of a 5-ruble coin while the plane was in free fall, and again the researchers were able to make free-standing liquid lenses, although once the plane began to rise again and gravity was felt, the liquids lost their shape.
Next, this experiment will be carried out on the ISS (International Space Station), and he is already on board, waiting for the arrival of the Axiom-1 spacecraft with mission specialist Eitan Stibbe, who is to conduct the experiment.
There, they will add the step of using ultraviolet light or temperature to solidify the liquid so that the lenses can be studied and tested by researchers at Ames on Earth.
The successful experiment will be the first time an optical component has been fabricated in space. If the experiment succeeds, it will be the beginning of a new way to build telescopes in space. It will be a revolution in space manufacturing and the time needed to build a telescope will be greatly reduced. And what views will we see!
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