Some Assembly Required: Giant Next-Generation Space Telescopes Could Be Built Off Earth
Space.com - Mon 11 Feb 08:02 GMT

Some Assembly Required: Giant Next-Generation Space Telescopes Could Be Built Off Earth

When it comes to telescopes, size matters.

  New "megarockets" like NASA's Space Launch System may be big enough for the next-generation space telescopes that NASA aims to launch in the 2030s, but if subsequent missions have to squeeze into the same-size rocket fairing, those missions may have to sacrifice some scientific potential.

  [Giant Space Telescopes of the Future (Infographic)] Rather than constrain a telescope's design to fit inside the payload fairing of the biggest available rocket — thereby placing a limit on the amount of science its instruments can return — NASA scientists are working to find new ways to get those hefty space telescopes into orbit: by launching them piece by piece and assembling them in space, either robotically or with the help of astronauts.

  NASA engineers working on the blueprints for proposed space observatories like the Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) and the Origins Space Telescope (OST) have already had to cope with the limitations of today's rockets.

  For each of those two telescopes, the engineers came up with two different design options: a 15-m (50 feet) version that can launch on NASA's upcoming Space Launch System (SLS) and an 8-m (26 feet) version that can launch on today's smaller and less powerful heavy-lift rockets.

  Instead of waiting for someone to build a rocket big enough to support the kinds of space telescopes that scientists hope to launch in the future, a team of NASA researchers is studying the possibilities of in-space assembly.