Thursday, 14 July 2016

NASA is making a small carbon nanotube telescope for CubeSats

It might take a while before it's ready, though.

A team of NASA Goddard scientists are developing a lightweight and low-cost telescope small enough to fit inside CubeSats. Those mini satellites provide the agency an inexpensive means to send various experiments to outer space. By creating a small telescope sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelength bands that can fit inside a CubeSat, NASA will be able to explore space for cheap. Obviously, the images it sends back won't be as high-res as the photos taken by Hubble or by one of the humongous ground-based telescopes.

However, the team says it could be a great "exploratory tool for quick looks that could lead to larger missions." It will also likely be the first one to use the new carbon nanotube mirror the team designed. Other telescope mirrors are made of aluminum or glass, but the team's was created using carbon nanotubes embedded in an epoxy resin. Since carbon nanotubes are exceptionally strong, the team's mirror is tough and is an efficient conductor of heat. It also doesn't require polishing, which is a time-consuming process, bringing costs down even further. While NASA's scientists plan to use off-the-shelf components for the telescope, it might still take a while before we see the finished product. Their carbon nanotube mirror is a brand new technology and requires loads of testing before it's ready for space.