Scaling up our space telescopes calls for new thinking. Consider this: The Hubble telescope has a primary mirror of 2.4 meters. The James Webb Space Telescope takes us to 6.5 meters. But as we begin to get results from missions like TESS and JWST (assuming the latter gets off safely), we’re going to need much more to see our most interesting targets. Imagine what could be done with a 30-meter space telescope, and ponder the challenge of constructing it.
This is what Cornell University’s Dmitry Savransky has been doing, developing a NIAC study that looks at modular design and self-assembly in space. Savransky’s notions take me back to a much earlier era, when people like Bob Forward talked about massive structures in space that dwarf any engineering project we’ve yet attempted. Forward saw these projects — his vast Fresnel lens between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus 1000 kilometers in diameter, for example — as ultimately achievable, but his primary concern was to be sure the physics worked.
Image: Cornell’s Dmitry Savransky. Credit: Cornell University.
Rather than imagining spacesuited work crews in the tens of thousands welding metal to metal, I have long thought that the only way to ...