APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun 10)

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APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun 10)

Post by APOD Robot » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:07 am

Image Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes Gifted to NASA

Explanation: What if you were given a new Hubble telescope for free? How about two? The astronomical community is abuzz with just this opportunity as the US National Reconnaissance Office has unexpectedly transferred ownership of two space-qualified Hubble-quality telescopes to NASA. The usefulness of these telescopes in addressing existing science priorities has begun, but preliminary indications hold that even one of these telescope could be extremely useful in searching for extrasolar planets as well as distant galaxies and supernovas that could better explore the nature of dark energy. Although they start out as free, making even one telescope operational and fitting it with useful cameras would be quite expensive, so NASA is being decidedly careful about how to fit these new telescopes into its existing budget. Pictured above, the original Hubble Space Telescope floats high above the Earth during a servicing mission in 2002.

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by bystander » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:14 am

Know the quiet place within your heart and touch the rainbow of possibility; be
alive to the gentle breeze of communication, and please stop being such a jerk.
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Flase » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:09 am

It's reassuring to know that so much more gets spent on spying on private people than on the pursuit of human understanding...

tedrey

Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by tedrey » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:31 am

If these telescopes are used in tandem at synchronized times, rather than always looking at different objects, it seems their usefulness could be enhanced.

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Guest » Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:02 pm

The telescopes have been declassified, though they remain sufficiently sensitive that neither the NRO or NASA would provide a photograph of them.

... which explains why all we get is a library picture of Hubble ...

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by geckzilla » Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:29 pm

Flase wrote:It's reassuring to know that so much more gets spent on spying on private people than on the pursuit of human understanding...
Haha, yeah, so much in fact that they have a couple of spares to give away to the money-addled agency which will have a hard time putting them to use even though they are free.

There have been a lot of comparisons of the mirror sizes to the size of Hubble's mirror. I wonder if they are even more intimately related than that? The same people who developed Hubble could have easily helped develop spy satellites.
Just call me "geck" because "zilla" is like a last name.

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by flyhieagle » Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:33 pm

What would happen if the scientists would turn the Hubble telescope towards Earth? What would they see?

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Ernest » Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:57 pm

tedrey wrote:If these telescopes are used in tandem at synchronized times, rather than always looking at different objects, it seems their usefulness could be enhanced.
Well, they use long exposures/image stacking with Hubble already, using all three on a same point of interest would basically decrease the time to get a result by 3.
But what's a better option, rotating the groups Hubble is leased to faster, or allowing two more groups to use "a" Hubble at the same time? :) I guess we'll find out soon.

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Chris Peterson » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:53 pm

tedrey wrote:If these telescopes are used in tandem at synchronized times, rather than always looking at different objects, it seems their usefulness could be enhanced.
Not really. The big advantage would come from using them interferometrically, which (at optical wavelengths) currently requires physically combining the light from each telescope. That's very hard to do even on the ground, and essentially impossible with these space telescopes.

Other than interferometry, the two telescopes could be used in tandem to cut down exposure times by as much as a factor of two, which probably isn't very useful.

One rare case where two telescopes could be valuable would be observing a transient event. Because the telescopes orbit Earth, there are periods of time (depending on where the target object is in the sky) where the Earth blocks the view. With two or more telescopes, you could increase the temporal coverage. But that usage of the HST has been rare.
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by dj-spaceguy » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:57 pm

So where are these two? Presumably in orbit? (I wouldn't think that they've been on the ground, but won't assume.) If they have been in orbit, did they have the same servicing missions (4-5) as the original hubble?

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Chris Peterson » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:15 pm

dj-spaceguy wrote:So where are these two? Presumably in orbit? (I wouldn't think that they've been on the ground, but won't assume.) If they have been in orbit, did they have the same servicing missions (4-5) as the original hubble?
They are on the ground, only partly constructed. If NASA decides to use them, they still have to design instruments for them, and get them launched (none of which is currently budgeted).
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Amir » Sun Jun 10, 2012 5:49 pm

flyhieagle wrote:What would happen if the scientists would turn the Hubble telescope towards Earth? What would they see?
Washington Post wrote:NASA official Michael Moore said that if the Hubble Space Telescope were pointed at the surface of the Earth instead of at outer space, “you could see a dime sitting on top of the Washington Monument.”
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Boomer12k » Sun Jun 10, 2012 5:52 pm

Looks a bit like an old time cannon.....

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by ta152h0 » Sun Jun 10, 2012 8:54 pm

Do the iniversities graduate enough engineers to man this sudden windfall ? We are currently living in an environment where manpower is carefully matched to workloads expected in advance, with constant cost savings mandated by those outside the astronomical interests.
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by orin stepanek » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:49 pm

Spy telescope?? well "here's looking at you kid!" :lol2: :mrgreen: :wink:
Click to play embedded YouTube video.
Abuze? :wink: :eyebrows:
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Beyond » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:58 pm

'Abuzz' is more like a furball. :yes:
I just noticed a second furball in the back-ground.
That makes it 2-furballs to one Woofer.
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Sam » Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:05 am

Flase wrote:It's reassuring to know that so much more gets spent on spying on private people than on the pursuit of human understanding...
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db ... 2423#comic
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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by saturno2 » Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:55 am

Congratulations. NASA have given two telescopes Hubble quality.
Is important because they might study the dark energy, one of misteries of the Universe

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by Chris Peterson » Mon Jun 11, 2012 1:04 am

ta152h0 wrote:Do the iniversities graduate enough engineers to man this sudden windfall ? We are currently living in an environment where manpower is carefully matched to workloads expected in advance, with constant cost savings mandated by those outside the astronomical interests.
There are plenty of talented engineers and scientists available to be part of a project like this. What there isn't, at the moment, is anything to pay them.
Chris

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by iamlucky13 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:10 am

Flase wrote:It's reassuring to know that so much more gets spent on spying on private people than on the pursuit of human understanding...
It's not spent on spying on private people. It's spent on spying on people with the ability to kill millions of private people with the flick of a couple switches.

It's very sad, but not quite as nefarious as you suggest.
geckzilla wrote: Haha, yeah, so much in fact that they have a couple of spares to give away to the money-addled agency which will have a hard time putting them to use even though they are free.
The reason, as I understand it, is they were made in batches to get better pricing due to economy of scale, but because the copies that were completed and launched have generally lasted longer than designed, they didn't need these two.
There have been a lot of comparisons of the mirror sizes to the size of Hubble's mirror. I wonder if they are even more intimately related than that? The same people who developed Hubble could have easily helped develop spy satellites.
I believe some of the same people were involved in developing the basic technologies, but the overall design was carried out by different teams, with different purposes. For example, NASA has stated that these two telescopes are set up for a much wider field of view than the Hubble, thus trading resolution for the ability to monitor a larger area. These were also designed to track moving objects (or more correctly, a stationary ground from a moving platform), while Hubble was designed to hold position with extreme precision for examining faint objects for very long time periods (up to 24 hours).

There's an article here about past donations of military reconnaissance equipment to NASA:
http://thespacereview.com/article/2100/1

The author is one of the top civilian experts on military spacecraft. Very interesting perspective to add to the topic.

I was unaware for the cancelled Lunar telescope program before reading that article.
"Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man." ~J. Robert Oppenheimer (speaking about Albert Einstein)

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Stubby Hubbles

Post by neufer » Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:22 pm

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/jason-davis/nasa-gets-two-hand-me-down.html wrote: NRO gives NASA two hand-me-down telescopes
Posted By Jason Davis, 2012/06/07 08:28 CDT

<<There have been a few "new developments" on NASA's astronomy and astrophysics front.

I put this understatement-of-a-phrase in quotes because that's exactly what was used in the titles of two presentations given this week by the National Academies' Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics. The presentations -- "New Developments in Astronomy and Astrophysics," by NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Paul Hertz, and "Implication of New Developments for the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey," by Alan Dressler of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute -- dropped a whopping revelation. The National Reconnaissance Office, America's intelligence agency for space-based surveillance, has donated two, partially-completed space telescopes to NASA.

That's right: two telescopes, similar in design to the Hubble Space Telescope, for free. "New developments," indeed. According to Paul Hertz, the telescopes are currently sitting quietly in a clean room at ITT Exelis in Rochester, New York. Exelis is a big player in aerospace defense. To give you an idea of just how big, consider that the company claims its technology has been aboard every GPS satellite put into orbit.

Speculation about the the telescopes' origin immediately focused on a National Reconnaissance Office satellite surveillance program called "Keyhole." The NRO launched the first Keyhole satellite in 1976, according to a 2009 article by Dwayne Day for The Space Review.

The story is thought to go something like this (since we're dealing with classified information, nothing can be said with absolute certainty): at the time of Day's article, fourteen Keyholes were believed to have been launched in four increasingly-sophisticated types, called "blocks." A fifteenth Keyhole was apparently sent into orbit via NROL-49, launched in January 2011.

In 1998, the U.S. government put out a call for proposals to replace the Keyholes with a new, sophisticated program called "Future Image Architecture." Although Lockheed Martin was the biggest player in satellite surveillance at the time, Boeing won the bid in a surprise upset.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the launch pad. According to a 2007 New York Times investigation, Boeing's proposal was too ambitious and severely underfunded from day one. As one former CIA official said in the article, "Writing winning proposals is different from building winning hardware." Boeing's role in the optical portion of FIA was revoked in 2005. Estimates on the cost of the failed project reached $18 billion.

So, are these two NRO 'scopes relics from the FIA debacle? While possible, two pieces of evidence suggest they came from the Keyhole program. The first indication comes from the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics presentations: the telescopes have actuated, or movable, secondary mirrors. That's an alleged feature of some of the Keyhole satellites; the mirrors could be moved to provide a variety of focal options.

Secondly, NRO spokesperson Loretta DeSio confirmed to the Washington Post that the NRO telescopes are very Hubble-esque. That description matches the rumored design of earlier Keyhole satellites. According to a book by Andrew J. Dunar and Stephen P. Waring called The Power to Explore, early proposals for the Hubble suggested a 3-meter diameter mirror until it was realized the shuttle's payload bay could not accommodate a telescope of that size. Chapter twelve (available from MSFC as a PDF) says a mirror size of 2.4 meters was eventually chosen because it would be the same size as comparable spy satellites, thus saving on production costs. The NRO telescopes given to NASA indeed have 2.4-meter mirrors.

So, if these are Keyhole telescopes, why aren't they in space? The NRO also revealed to the Washington Post that the telescopes were manufactured in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Space Review's aforementioned article indicates the last Block III Keyhole, USA-129, was launched on December 20, 1996. The NRO sought their FIA proposals in 1998, and the next Keyhole -- a new Block IV version -- didn't fly until 2001. This implies that these *might* be Block III Keyholes that weren't needed when the Block IV series started flying around the time of the FIA fiasco. Or, they could indeed be FIA leftovers. Or neither. The exact circumstances in which the NRO came to have two surplus, partially-constructed space telescopes while NASA continued to struggle for science funding may forever remain a mystery.

Now that we know (or don't know) where they came from, let's take a look at the NRO telescopes. As mentioned before, they have 2.4-meter mirrors, just like the HST. Where they differ from Hubble, however, is their focal lengths. Hubble has a focal length of 57.6 meters, giving it a focal ratio of f/24. The NRO 'scopes have focal lengths of 19.2 meters, giving them focal ratios of f/8. Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, called them "stubby Hubbles."

The shorter focal length gives the NRO telescopes a much wider field of view. Alan Dressler's CAA presentation gives some theoretical numbers if the telescopes were used as-is and outfitted with sixteen Hawaii-4RG detectors from Teledyne. He compares the result with the infrared channel on Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFC3). I took some of Dressler's numbers and lined them up with an excerpt from a Hubble instrument chart by Emily Lakdawalla to come up with the resulting table:

Code: Select all

                         Hubble’s WFC3 (IR) vs. the NRO telescopes
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Instrument/telescope	FOV, arcsec	Arcsec/pixel	Detector size, pixels	Wavelength range, nanometers
WFC3 IR      	        123 x 136 	      0.13 	    1014 x 1014 	        850-1700
NRO telescopes   	   1800 x 1800 	     0.11 	    4096 x 4096 	        920-2170
Dressler's presentation says that this theoretical setup would result in a field of view a magnitude of one hundred times larger than that of Hubble's WFC3. Hertz and Dressler use the WFC3 as a comparison point because the NRO telescopes would be ideally suited to perform large-scale infrared observations, a key goal of WFIRST (more on that next). However, the comparison exercise is conjectural because the telescopes don't currently have detectors at all. For that matter, they lack star trackers, prism wheels, filters and the other components required for an operational space telescope.

What they do have, however, are bodies, mirrors and a payload radiator. They also have nice long struts on the bottom that provide a roomy 1.5 meters of available space for spacecraft instruments.

What will we do with them, and how soon?

NASA has already given some thought on what science objectives the hand-me-down telescopes could be used to accomplish. Both Hertz and Dressler suggest using them to fulfill the goals of WFIRST, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope. WFIRST has four main science objectives:
  • Survey large areas of the sky in the near-infrared
    Find exoplanets using microlensing search techniques
    Answer questions about the nature of Dark Energy
    Give slices of observing time to competitively-selected guest users
That's a pretty impressive set of cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics goals. Dressler's presentation indicates one of the NRO telescopes could likely accomplish the objectives of WFIRST, with an added bonus: the original WFIRST proposals called for 1.1 or 1.3-meter, unobstructed mirror. Even considering the NRO telescopes' 9% obstruction due to the secondary mirror, a 2.4-meter telescope would be a big improvement.

WFIRST originally had a scheduled launch date of 2020. But with the James Webb Space Telescope currently taking a large share of funding, estimates for the launch have slipped as far as 2025, according to a January article by SpacePolicyOnline.com. If NASA decides to use one of the NRO telescopes for WFIRST, that could theoretically be accelerated. However, as Paul Hertz stressed in his presentation, there is currently no funding -- and therefore, no mission -- to take advantage of the hardware gift.

Additionally, the WFIRST design called for the telescope to be placed in orbit around the second Lagrangian point -- similar to the James Webb Space Telescope -- where radiation from the Earth and Sun comes from a uniform direction. The NRO telescope's active control system and payload radiator may be able to compensate for that radiation, allowing the mission to operate from a geosynchronous orbit. This would give the added benefit of improved data transmission rates to Earth, but the idea requires further study.

In the aforementioned New York Times article, NASA acting deputy director for astrophysics Michael Moore said that the NRO hardware could shave as much as $250 million from WFIRST's $1.5 billion budget. First, NASA must find the funding to start the mission. The space agency will have to pay $100,000 per year to store the new telescopes in a clean room, but the donation is still quite a bargain.>>
Art Neuendorffer

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Re: APOD: Two New Hubble Quality Telescopes to... (2012 Jun

Post by aldenrw » Sat Jun 23, 2012 5:02 pm

kickstarter.com, anyone?