Seeing deep into space requires large telescopes. The larger the telescope, the more light it collects, and the sharper the image it provides.
For example, NASA’s Kepler space observatory, with a mirror diameter of under one meter, is searching for exoplanets orbiting stars up to 3,000 light-years away. By contrast, the Hubble Space Telescope, with a 2.4-meter mirror, has studied stars more than 10 billion light-years away.
Now Caltech’s Sergio Pellegrino and colleagues are proposing a space observatory that would have a primary mirror with a diameter of 100 meters—40 times larger than Hubble’s. Space telescopes, which provide some of the clearest images of the universe, are typically limited in size due to the difficulty and expense of sending large items into space. Pellegrino’s team would circumvent that issue by shipping the mirror up as separate components that would be assembled, in space, by robots.
Their design calls for the use of more than 300 deployable truss modules that could be unfolded to form a scaffolding upon which a commensurate number of small mirror plates could be placed to create a large segmented mirror. The assembly of the scaffolding and the attachment of the many mirrors is a task well-suited to robots, Pellegrino and his colleagues say.
In their concept, a spider-like, six-armed “hexbot” would assemble the trusswork and then crawl across the structure to build the mirror atop it. It was modeled on the JPL RoboSimian system, which in 2015 completed the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a federal competition aimed at spurring the development of robots that could perform complicated tasks that would be dangerous for humans. The hexbot would run on electrical power from the telescope’s solar grid. It would use four of its arms to walk—with one leg moving at any given time, while the three others remain securely attached to the structure. The two remaining arms would be free to assemble the trusses and mirrors.
The team opted to pursue an ambitious 100-meter design. “We wanted to study how different kinds of architectures perform as the diameter is increased,” says Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Civil Engineering in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist. “We found that far away from the Earth, a structurally connected telescope is much heavier than an architecture based on separate spacecraft for the primary mirror, the optics, and the instrumentation.”
The realization of such an assembly is still decades away. However, Pellegrino and his colleagues are already working on the various technologies that will be needed to make it possible.
The entire space observatory would be composed of the fully assembled mirror-and-truss structure and three other parts, flying in formation. An optics and instrumentation unit would be located about 400 meters from the mirror; a control unit, stationed about 400 meters beyond that, would align the system and keep it working properly; and a thin shade, roughly 20 meters in diameter, would shield the mirror from the sun to keep its temperature stable and consistent across its diameter.
The four-part assembly would be stationed at one of the sun–earth Lagrange points—locations between the sun and the earth where the pull of gravity from two bodies locks a satellite into orbit with them, allowing it to maintain a stable position. There, the space observatory could peer deep into space without drifting out of place.
The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States.
Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Although founded as a preparatory and vocational school by Amos G. Throop in 1891, the college attracted influential scientists such as George Ellery Hale, Arthur Amos Noyes, and Robert Andrews Millikan in the early 20th century. The vocational and preparatory schools were disbanded and spun off in 1910, and the college assumed its present name in 1921. In 1934, Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities, and the antecedents of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech continues to manage and operate, were established between 1936 and 1943 under Theodore von Kármán.
Despite its small size, 32 Caltech alumni and faculty have won a total of 33 Nobel Prizes (Linus Pauling being the only individual in history to win two unshared prizes) and 70 have won the United States National Medal of Science or Technology. There are 112 faculty members who have been elected to the National Academies. In addition, numerous faculty members are associated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as well as NASA. Caltech managed $332 million in 2011 in sponsored research and $1.75 billion for its endowment in 2012. It also has a long standing rivalry with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
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California Institute of Technology (Caltech) research articles from Innovation Toronto
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Low-cost coating would disrupt the building retrofit market and potentially save billions in electricity
It’s estimated that 10 percent of all the energy used in buildings in the U.S. can be attributed to window performance, costing building owners about $50 billion annually, yet the high cost of replacing windows or retrofitting them with an energy efficient coating is a major deterrent. U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers are seeking to address this problem with creative chemistry—a polymer heat-reflective coating that can be painted on at one-tenth the cost.
“Instead of hiring expensive contractors, a homeowner could go to the local hardware store, buy the coating, and paint it on as a DIY retrofit—that’s the vision,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Raymond Weitekamp. “The coating will selectively reflect the infrared solar energy back to the sky while allowing visible light to pass through, which will drastically improve the energy efficiency of windows, particularly in warm climates and southern climates, where a significant fraction of energy usage goes to air conditioning.”
A team of Berkeley Lab scientists is receiving part of a $3.95 million award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) to develop this product. The multi-institutional team is led by researcher Garret Miyake at the University of Colorado Boulder, and also includes Caltech and Materia Inc.
There are retrofit window films on the market now that have spectral selectivity, but a professional contractor is needed to install them, a barrier for many building owners. A low-cost option could significantly expand adoption and result in potential annual energy savings of 35 billion kilowatt-hours, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 24 billion kilograms per year, the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road.
The Berkeley Lab technology relies on a type of material called a bottlebrush polymer, which, as its name suggests, has one main rigid chain of molecules with bristles coming off the sides. This unusual molecular architecture lends it some unique properties, one being that it doesn’t entangle easily.
“Imagine spaghetti versus gummy worms,” Weitekamp explained. “Spaghetti can be tied up in knots. If you want to rearrange cooked spaghetti back to its uncooked alignment, you would have to put significant energy into unwinding it. But with gummy worms you can line them all up easily because they’re pretty rigid.”
As a graduate student at Caltech, Weitekamp worked on understanding and controlling how bottlebrush polymers self-assemble into nanostructures behaving as photonic crystals, which can selectively reflect light at different frequencies. Last year he came to Berkeley Lab as part of Cyclotron Road, a program for entrepreneurial researchers, to commercialize these coatings and other related polymer-based technologies. He has been working on the development of polymeric materials as a user at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Berkeley Lab.
“We were very compelled by the potential impact of [Weitekamp’s] technology across a number of industries,” said Cyclotron Road director Ilan Gur. “His ideas aligned with the Foundry’s expertise in polymer chemistry and the window application fit squarely into Berkeley Lab’s existing strengths in buildings technology and energy analysis.”
For the ARPA-E award, Weitekamp is collaborating with Berkeley Lab’s Steve Selkowitz, a leading expert on building science and window technologies, and Arman Shehabi, an expert in analyzing energy use of buildings, to develop a cost-competitive and scalable product. Their target cost is $1.50 per square foot, one-tenth the current market cost for commercially installed energy efficient retrofit window coatings.
“ARPA-E invests in high-risk, high-reward projects,” Shehabi said. “The high reward in this project isn’t in the performance improvement. It’s transformative in how windows could be retrofitted—it’s something you can do yourself. The market need is very large, and there’s nothing low-cost out there that meets that need.”
Mathematical equations can make Internet communication via computer, mobile phone or satellite many times faster and more secure than today.
Results with software developed by researchers from Aalborg University in collaboration with the US universities the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) are attracting attention in the international technology media.
A new study uses a four minute long mobile video as an example. The method used by the Danish and US researchers in the study resulted in the video being downloaded five times faster than state of the art technology. The video also streamed without interruptions. In comparison, the original video got stuck 13 times along the way.