The figure depicts the planned Actuated Hybrid Mirror Telescope (AHMT), which is intended to demonstrate a new approach to the design and construction of wide-aperture spaceborne telescopes for astronomy and Earth science. This technology is also appropriate for Earth-based telescopes.
The new approach can be broadly summarized as using advanced lightweight mirrors that can be manufactured rapidly at relatively low cost. More specifically, it is planned to use precise replicated metallic nanolaminate mirrors to obtain the required high-quality optical finishes. Lightweight, dimensionally stable silicon carbide (SiC) structures will support the nanolaminate mirrors in the required surface figures. To enable diffraction-limited telescope performance, errors in surface figures will be corrected by use of mirror-shape-control actuators that will be energized, as needed, by a wave-front-sensing and control system.
The concepts of nanolaminate materials and mirrors made from nanolaminate materials were discussed in several previous NASA Tech Briefs articles. Nanolaminates constitute a relatively new class of materials that can approach theoretical limits of stiffness and strength. Nanolaminate mirrors are synthesized by magnetron sputter deposition of metallic alloys and/or compounds on optically precise master surfaces to obtain optical-quality reflector surfaces backed by thin shell structures. As an integral part of the deposition process, a layer of gold that will constitute the reflective surface layer is deposited first, eliminating the need for a subsequent and separate reflective coating process. The crystallographic textures of the nanolaminate will be controlled to optimize the performance of the mirror. The entire deposition process for making a nanolaminate mirror takes less than 100 hours, regardless of the mirror diameter.
Each nanolaminate mirror will be bonded to its lightweight SiC supporting structure. The lightweight nanolaminate mirrors and SiC supporting structures will be fabricated from reusable master molds. The mirror-shape-control actuators will be low-power, high-capacitance lead magnesium niobate electrostrictive actuators that will be embedded in the SiC structures. The mode of operation of these actuators will be such that once power was applied, they will change in length and once power was removed, they will maintain dimensional stability to nanometer precision. This mode of operation will enable the use of low-power, minimally complex electronic control circuitry.
The wave-front-sensing and control system will be designed and built according to a two-stage architecture. The first stage will be implemented by a Shack-Hartmann (SH) sensor subsystem, which will provide a large capture range. The second, higher-performance stage will be implemented by an image based wave-front-sensing subsystem that will include a phase retrieval camera (PRC), and will utilize phase retrieval and other techniques to measure wavefront error directly. Phase retrieval is a process in which multiple images of an unresolved object are iterated to estimate the phase of the optical system that acquired the images. The combination of SH and phase retrieval sensors will afford the virtues of both a dynamic range of 105 and an accuracy of <10 nm.
This work was done by Gregory Hickey, David Redding, Andrew Lowman, David Cohen, and Catherine Ohara of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. NPO-40105