NASA’s next generation of telescopes are set to change what we know about the universe forever.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been sending beautiful shots of our universe since the 1990s. But NASA has been working on building brand new space telescopes to replace the research tool that has been in service in low-orbit for 29 years.
The James Webb Space Telescope has been lined up as the replacement to Hubble, with work starting on it in 2002. There’s even a successor to the JWST currently in development, with the American space agency pushing to learn more about what’s in the deepest parts of our universe.
There are also four more telescopes being planned to be built, with the United States National Research Council set to announce later this year which one is set to be built. A Decadal Survey committee will then decide what mission will take priority. Whatever gets funded, it could be launched as early as 2035.
Here’s a rundown of the six telescopes that are set to replace the Hubble telescope in the future:
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):
The next replacement to the Hubble is scheduled to be launched in 2021 and is scheduled to be in operation for five to ten years. It’s being built by NASA in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
As shown in the Instagram post below, the Webb will have a set of 18 hexagonal golden mirrors that measure 6.5m in diameter. They will be able to collect light from the first stars and galaxies that sprung to life just after the Big Bang. It will also be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope, helping it to capture incredibly detailed images and zoom in on the furthest parts of our universe.
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@nasawebb needed a primary mirror so large it couldn’t fit in an existing rocket, so the team took a lesson from honeybees. Their efficient honeycomb pattern used inside beehives allows each mirror to perfectly fit together at their edges, effectively creating a singular and massively powerful unit. The 18 hexagonal mirror segments are able to fold to fit inside the rocket fairing. Each gold-plated hexagon is equipped with a set of actuators, which are small devices that allow for impressively accurate fine-tuning of their position, angle and even curvature. If adjustments need to be made, they can be precisely applied to each, without disturbing the others while in space. Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn #space #telescope #jwst #mirrors #astronomy
It has costed around $10 billion to build and the project is massively delayed. According to The Verge, NASA had hoped to launch the JWST sometime in October 2018. In June 2018, the space agency announced that the project would not launch until March 2021, and would need millions of dollars more than NASA currently has budgeted to get it off the ground.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST):
The WFIRST is a $3.2 billion telescope being created to replace the JWST when it’s launched in the mid 2020s. According to NASA, it’s being launched to answer questions relating to dark energy, exoplanets and infrared astrophysics.
It has a gigantic 300 megapixel camera, helping it to capture a single image with an area 100 times greater than the Hubble. It also has coronagraph, helping it to block out distant starlight on a star-by-star basis.
The telescope has been designed to only work for about five years, but NASA are hoping that the telescope will help to uncover some of the deepest mysteries of the cosmos. With it being 100 times more powerful than Hubble, here’s hoping that it can uncover some fascinating discoveries.
The Habitable Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx):
The HabEx is the first telescope that is being proposed to just find and study Earth-like exoplanets. As well as being able to photograph planets, they will also be use to look for signs of life and study the atmosphere of each planet.
NASA hopes that if this was to become a reality, the concept will also help to understand the life cycle and deaths of massive stars. They also believe that the telescope will be technologically and scientifically implementable in the next decade.
The HabEx will have a starshade designed to orbit 100,000km away from the telescope. This will help to suppress light from stars so that the telescope can find exoplanets more easily. If the optical, UV and infrared telescope is successfully selected to be launched, it could launch in 2035. The concept is one of four concepts currently being studied in preparation for the 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey.
The Lynx X-ray Surveyor:
The Lynx is a telescope that would be created to help understand super-massive black holes and supernovae. It will use x-rays to help discover information about things that we are currently unable to see. It will use hundreds of tiny curved mirrors to deflect x-rays onto detectors. This information can be fed back for the astronomers to work out how the universe was potentially created or how it might end.
As noted on the Lynx observatory website, they hope that the telescope will help to address all areas of astronomical research:
The scientific landscape of the 2030s will look very different from what it is today. Lynx is designed to look past these far horizons, and open unseen discovery space.
It will be a successor to the Chandra X-ray Observatory by the time it’s launched in 2035.
The Origins Space Telescope:
This particular telescope has been created to address how our galaxy and life-bearing planet was formed. It will help study how the Universe developed, and identify where carbon, oxygen and nitrogen actually came from. Origins will also be used to determine how water was transported as both ice and gas to Earth, as well as searching for nearby exoplanets.
The telescope would be orbiting near the moon close to the Lunar Gateway, which means that it would be easily serviced with the option of being upgraded by astronauts. The telescope would be super fast, with a 9.1 meter mirror to scan the same area of sky in a single second that the Webb would scan in two minutes.
The Large UV/Optical/IR Surveyor (LUVOIR):
Designed to launch in 2039 and observe for decades after, the LUVOIR will be able to perform tasks usually completed by different types of telescopes. As well as being able to directly photograph exoplanets, it’ll also be able to closely analyse moons and planets with others in the Solar System.
It will be the one telescope to rule them all, being able to study the universe in ultraviolet, optical and infrared. While there is no rocket that will be able to carry this massive telescope to space, it would make some fantastic research. It would be 40 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope and be able to produce high-quality imagery for decades to come.
It would be 15 meters in diameter, which is massive compared to the Hubble (2.4m) and JWST (6.5m). The LUVOIR is an incredibly ambitious project and needs to be if it’s going to replace the Hubble telescope.
It is unclear whether some of these space projects will ever leave Earth, but NASA is fully prepared to explore the darkest and farthest parts of our universe. It could be crucial in determining how we got to where we are, and where we go as a planet going forward.
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Matt Weston is a lover of electric cars, artificial intelligence and space. From Cornwall, he’s a UCLan graduate that still dreams of being a Formula One driver in the very near future. Previously work includes reporting for regional newspapers and freelance video for the International Business Times.