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Advances in optical engineering for future telescopes

Peer-Reviewed Publication

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Figure 1

image: Conceptual rendered image of the OASIS space observatory with a 20-metrer diameter inflatable primary aperture. view more 

Credit: Opto-Electronic Advances

In a new publication from Opto-Electronic Advances; DOI 10.29026/oea.2021.210040, Researchers led by Professor Daewook Kim from The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA consider advances in optical engineering for future telescopes.

Astronomical advances are largely coupled with technological improvements - from the invention of the first optical telescope used by Galileo in 1609 and for the foreseeable future, astronomy and optical engineering will be forever linked. This paper summarizes several advances that will enable future telescopes to expand scientific understanding of the universe. Significant optical engineering advances at the University of Arizona are being made for design, fabrication, and construction of next generation astronomical telescopes. This paper focuses on the technological advances in four key areas:

  • Optical fabrication techniques used for constructing next-generation telescope mirrors.

  • Advances in ground-based telescope alignment control and instrumentation, including laser truss-based active alignment of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) prime focus camera and the MOBIUS (Mask-Oriented Breadboard Implementation for Unscrambling Spectra) cross-dispersion spectroscopy unit used at the prime focal plane of the LBT.

  • Topological pupil segment optimization.

  • Future space telescope concepts and enabling technologies. Namely, the Nautilus space observatory requires precise alignment of segmented, multi-order diffractive optical elements. The OASIS (Orbiting Astronomical Satellite for Investigating Stellar Systems) terahertz space telescope presents unique challenges for characterizing the sag of the inflatable primary mirror. The Hyperion space telescope pushes the limits of high spectral resolution, far-UV spectroscopy. The CDEEP (Coronagraphic Debris and Exoplanet Exploring Pioneer) is a SmallSat mission concept for high-contrast imaging of circumstellar disks and exoplanets using a vector vortex coronagraph. These advances in optical engineering technologies will help mankind to survey, explore, and understand the scientific beauty of our universe.

A diverse selection of ground-based and space-based future telescope technologies are actively being conceptualized, designed, prototyped, and demonstrated at the University of Arizona. Associate Professor Daewook Kim has been leading the Large Optics Fabrication and Testing (LOFT) group of researchers, who investigate freeform optical system design, highly-aspheric optical surface figure manufacturing challenges, and dynamic metrology system developments. Professor Kim and his LOFT peers have published more than 150 publications as of 2021.

Computer Controlled Optical Surfacing (CCOS) process enhancements by the LOFT group enable efficient production of future optical elements. New engineering technologies will upgrade and expand the capabilities of existing large ground-based or space-based telescopes. This suite of optical technologies serves the next generation of astronomical investigations by offering novel and practical approaches that the wider design and engineering community will benefit from. It is Professor Kim's hope that these contributions in design and instrumentation will not only provide new benchmarks for modern astronomy but will also precipitate the next great insights and questions about our universe.

Professor Kim continues to coordinate with various flagship ground-based and space-based telescope missions using existing infrastructure and is working in close collaboration with the facilities' directors, staff, and scientists. He considers it essential to maintain the LOFT group's international contribution and academic service to the optics community for the next generation of advanced optical system design, manufacturing/testing, and engineering by continuously researching, developing, and applying innovative and advanced optical technologies.


Article reference: Kim DW, Choi H, Brendel T, Quach H, Esparza M et al. Advances in Optical Engineering for Future Telescopes. Opto-Electron Adv 4, 210040 (2021). doi: 10.29026/oea.2021.210040

Keywords: computer controlled optical surfacing; CCOS multiplexing / dwell time optimization / optical metrology / telescope alignment / large binocular telescope / MOBIUS / pupil segmentation / OASIS / nautilus / hyperion / CDEEP / vector vortex coronagraph

The Large Optics Fabrication and Testing (LOFT) research group led by Professor Daewook Kim consists of research faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and students dedicated to developing advanced technologies for optical design, testing, and fabrication of optical components and systems. The LOFT group's research is closely tied to hardware projects at the Optical Engineering and Fabrication Facility (OEFF) at the Wyant College of Optical Sciences and the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab (RFCML). The intersection of basic research and production-driven projects provides LOFT faculty and students the ability to efficiently develop technical solutions from concept, to prototype, to full-scale implementation. The implementation of advanced technologies enables OEFF and RFCML to build new classes of optical components and systems. LOFT students and faculty make significant contributions to next generation astronomical telescopes such as Giant Magellan Telescope and advanced ground-based and space-based optical instruments including the ASPERA UV space telescope mission selected by NASA in 2021.

The LOFT group's research vision is strongly aligned with the future technology roadmap of collaborating faculties, the Wyant College of Optical Sciences, the Department of Astronomy, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the Large Binocular Telescope Organization, and the two large optics fabrication facilities, OEFF and RFCML, at the University of Arizona. High-profile astronomical optical systems require cutting-edge optical engineering technologies and provide extensive opportunities to establish high-quality research projects.

Opto-Electronic Advances (OEA) is a high-impact, open access, peer reviewed monthly SCI journal with an impact factor of 9.636 (Journals Citation Reports for IF 2020). Since its launch in March 2018, OEA has been indexed in SCI, EI, Scopus, CA and ICI databases over the time and expanded its Editorial Board to 33 members from 17 countries and regions (average h-index 46).

The journal is published by The Institute of Optics and Electronics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, aiming at providing a platform for researchers, academicians, professionals, practitioners, and students to impart and share knowledge in the form of high quality empirical and theoretical research papers covering the topics of optics, photonics and optoelectronics.

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