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posted by janrinok on Friday January 20 2023, @10:37AM   Printer-friendly

NASA Reveals Tantalizing Details About Webb Telescope's Successor:

The Habitable Worlds Observatory now has a name, a rough timeline, and a whole lot of hype.

[...] In the session, Mark Clampin, the Astrophysics Division Director NASA's Science Mission Directorate, offered a few details about the telescope, which could be operational in the early 2040s.

One of the key findings of the most recent decadal survey was the necessity of finding habitable worlds beyond our own, using a telescope tailored specifically for such a purpose. The report suggested an $11 billion observatory—one with a 6-meter telescope that would take in light at optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths. (Hubble Space Telescope sees mostly in optical and ultraviolet light, while the more recently launched Webb Space Telescope images at mid-infrared and near-infrared wavelengths.)

The authors of the decadal survey suggested the Habitable Worlds Observatory as the first in a new Great Observatories program; basically, the linchpin in the next generation of 21st-century space telescopes. As Science reported, the decadal report's suggestion of an exoplanet-focused space telescope falls somewhere between two older NASA proposals, telescope concepts named HabEx and LUVOIR.

[...] Unlike other telescopes—both operational and those still on the drawing board—the planned Habitable Worlds Observatory would look specifically for so-called Goldilocks planets, worlds with conditions that could foster life.

The search for extraterrestrial life is a relentless goal of NASA. The Perseverance rover on Mars is collecting rock samples on Mars to learn, among other things, whether there's any evidence for ancient microbial life in a region of the planet that once was a flowing river delta. (An environment, it's important to note, that scientists believe was similar to that where Earth's first known life materialized.)

[...] Space News reported that NASA will imminently begin seeking out nominations for people to join the Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) for the new observatory. The first phase of the observatory's development is slated for 2029.

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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20 2023, @12:52PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20 2023, @12:52PM (#1287719)

    Deep in tfa:
    > Like the Webb telescope, the future observatory will be located at L2, a region of space one million miles from Earth that allows objects to remain in position with relatively little fuel burn.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by takyon on Friday January 20 2023, @03:07PM (5 children)

    by takyon (881) <> on Friday January 20 2023, @03:07PM (#1287734) Journal

    Too small, too late, too expensive.

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by PiMuNu on Friday January 20 2023, @03:18PM (2 children)

      by PiMuNu (3823) on Friday January 20 2023, @03:18PM (#1287737)

      > Too small, too late, too expensive.

      There is a tension in your adjectives. Projects are either quick, or cheap, or good quality. This is well established by engineers everywhere.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:25PM (1 child)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:25PM (#1287926) Journal

        Projects are either quick, or cheap, or good quality, or none of the above

        FTFY. It's easy to forget that there's always a misc category in any list, and it frequently is surprisingly large.

    • (Score: 2, Touché) by mcgrew on Friday January 20 2023, @07:12PM (1 child)

      by mcgrew (701) <> on Friday January 20 2023, @07:12PM (#1287771) Homepage Journal

      Too small HOW? Too late FOR WHAT? Too expensive FOR WHOM? Christ, Bezos or Zuckerberg or Musk could pay for the damned thing!

      Dude, put down the crack pipe, it's eating your brains.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:31PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:31PM (#1287931) Journal
        In comparison to ground telescopes or can launch on Super Heavy, I wager. You can get massive light gathering capability for more than an order of magnitude cheaper on Earth and Super Heavy would have vastly lower launch costs. And of course, there's the huge lost opportunity for massive numbers of space telescopes for what was burned on Hubble and JWST (James Webb Space Telescope).
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:32PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21 2023, @06:32PM (#1287932)

    If they want a large segmented mirror to work across the spectrum from the UV to the long wave IR, there are some things they're going to have to work out. It won't just be to duplicate the JWST, but what's been learned there will help greatly. The ability to phase up the mirror segments means they need to measure and adjust their positions to a fraction of a wavelength under study, so if we take Webb that goes down to something like a micron in its wavelength, they need to position them to something like a tenth of that, so 100 nm. To do that, you need to measure its present orientation to something like a tenth of that, so 10 nm. Now if you want to do this for the UV, which say has wavelengths in the neighborhood of 250nm, you now need to do all that measuring and positioning to 25 nm and 2.5 nm respectively. Not only do you need to position everything to these levels, you need to hold them there while you're collecting data, but your spacecraft has reaction wheels going, heat pipes, the structures are wobbling due to thermal gradients across them, etc., etc. I don't follow the technology close enough to know what they can achieve now, but when they were building JWST it wasn't good enough to go down even into the visible wavelengths.

    Another interesting problem will be in the primary mirror reflective coating. You want as high a reflectance over as wide a wavelength range that you can get. Something like protective aluminum works well in the IR above a micron, but suffers shorter (75%-ish) as you go to shorter wavelengths, and gets worse in the UV. Gold, like the JWST, won't get you the UV, and some specialized UV coatings won't get you the longer wavelengths. There will have to be some new developments in coatings, or accept that perfect is the enemy of good-enough and there will have to be tradeoffs with which part of the spectrum they want the best or worst performances.

    These are just two things that immediately come to my mind. The cost and schedule will depend heavily upon how much new tech they need to develop along the way to get where they need to get. I'd rather see them put something up sooner with a reduced capacity, like a JWST that works down in the UV area, than repeat the JWST development and wait decades to put up the full UV-to-LWIR concept.