Aerospace & Defense

Super-Light, Foldable Space Telescope Features Polymer Membrane Optics

As the need for higher-resolution orbital imagery expands, glass mirrors are becoming too expensive and heavy for even the largest of today's rockets to carry to orbit. DARPA's Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) program seeks to develop technologies that would make orbital telescopes lighter, more transportable, and more cost-effective. The program recently demonstrated a ground-based prototype that incorporates new lightweight polymer membrane optics - roughly the thickness of household plastic wrap - to replace glass mirrors. MOIRE technology houses the membranes in thin metal petals that would launch in a tightly packed configuration roughly 20 feet in diameter. Upon reaching its destination orbit, a satellite could unfold the petals to create the full-size multi-lens optics with an envisioned diameter of 68 feet.