Tech Briefs

Two papers describe the StarLight space interferometer — a Michelson interferometer that would be implemented by two spacecraft flying in formation. The StarLight formation flying interferometer project has been testing and demonstrating engineering concepts for a new generation of space interferometers that would be employed in a search for extrasolar planets and in astrophysical investigations. As described in the papers, the original StarLight concept called for three spacecraft, and the main innovation embodied is a modification that makes it possible to reduce complexity by eliminating the third spacecraft. The main features of the modification are (1) introduction of an optical delay line on one spacecraft and (2) controlling the flying formation such that the two spacecraft are located at two points along a specified parabola so as to define the required baseline of specified length (which could be varied up to 125 m) perpendicular to the axis of the parabola. One of the papers presents a detailed description of the optical layout and discusses computational modeling of the performance; the other paper presents an overview of the requirements for operation and design, the overall architecture, and subsystems.

This work was done by William Folkner, Michael Shao, and Peter Gorham of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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