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China declares its new flagship area telescope mission


China announces its new flagship space telescope mission
Artist’s idea of the Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST). Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0

Distant galaxies, darkish matter, darkish power and the origin and evolution of the universe itself are a number of the many scientific targets of China’s newly introduced area telescope. If all goes based on plan, the China Space Station Telescope (CSST) will blast off atop a Long March 5B rocket someday in late 2023. Once in a secure orbit, CSST ought to start observations in 2024. Judging by these analysis matters, it seems just like the Chinese Academy of Sciences is throwing down a formidable scientific gauntlet for itself and its astronomers.

What it means to have an area telescope

Owning and working an area telescope actually opens the doorways to a treasury of details about the universe. Certainly, that is what motivated the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The dream of cosmic exploration motivated Hermann Oberth within the Nineteen Twenties to write down semi-science-fictional treatises about orbiting telescopes on asteroids. In his view, astronomers would reside and work in area whereas utilizing the telescope for prolonged intervals of time. Their view can be unobstructed by Earth and its environment. That imaginative and prescient impressed quite a lot of later scientists to start out planning an area telescope for actual. Their work culminated in HST, the primary of the so-called “great observatories” lofted to orbit. The others are Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and Spitzer Space Telescope.

Scientifically, orbiting area telescopes supply big payoffs throughout a variety of the electromagnetic spectrum. For instance, earlier than HST, nobody actually had a good suggestion of the extent of galaxies within the universe. The well-known Hubble Deep Field views let astronomers observe stars and galaxies as they have been shortly after the Big Bang, in each seen and infrared gentle. HST revealed glimpses of the large-scale construction within the cosmos and objects as small as exoplanets, comets, and asteroids. All the good observatories set the stage for brand spanking new generations of orbiting devices, such because the James Webb Space Telescope, the European Space Agency’s GAIA, NASA’s WISE telescope, and now, the CSST.

China announces its new flagship space telescope mission
NASA’s Great Observatories (CGRO, Chandra, HST and Spitzer) with the electromagnetic thermometer scale. X-Rays are related to excessive temperatures of about 10 million – 100 million Ok. Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

China enters the area telescope fray

Given the potential scientific rewards, it isn’t shocking that China is becoming a member of the “large area telescope membership.” It’s additionally a supply of nationwide pleasure, particularly if they’ll “out-Hubble Hubble.” For instance, as soon as CSST is operational, Chinese scientists hope to survey the sky and observe greater than 1 billion galaxies. Their devices ought to allow them to get extremely exact measurements of galaxy shapes, positions and brightnesses. They’ll use the telescope to go after exoplanets, star start areas, and different distant objects, gathering unimaginable quantities of high-resolution knowledge.

China’s astronomers hope their telescope will present, as HST has accomplished and JWST will do, extra perception into the extent and distribution of darkish matter. It would possibly even give them higher clues in regards to the darkish power that impacts the growth of the universe. And, as HST and different telescopes have been, CSST will probably be a degree of inspiration. It will, its designers hope, present new generations of Chinese scientists discover the cosmos.

Explore CSST: A next-generation area telescope

So what can we learn about CSST? Picture in your thoughts a large orbiting observatory. It’s in regards to the size of a three-story constructing and the width of a college bus. It has a 2-meter aperture and a three-mirror array set in an off-axis configuration. This observatory has a state-of-the-art survey digital camera, multi-channel imager, integral area spectrograph, cool-planet imaging coronagraph, and a terahertz receiver. The telescope can scan the sky utilizing 30 81-megapixel detectors, and it’s delicate to near-infrared, seen, and near-ultraviolet gentle.

China announces its new flagship space telescope mission
Rendering of Tiangong Space Station between October 2021 and March 2022, with Tianhe core module within the center, Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft on the left, Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft on the suitable, and Shenzhou-13 crewed spacecraft at nadir. Credit: Shujianyang, CC BY-SA 4.0

That’s only a small style of what CSST guarantees to do and be, based on scientists on the academy. Not surprisingly, they usually evaluate it to Hubble and its 32 years of breathtaking observations. If the telescope goes up as deliberate, it should positively surpass HST in some ways.

Li Ran, undertaking scientist for CSST’s Scientific Data Reduction System, identified that HST’s area of view is small in comparison with the CSST’s, which is 300 instances bigger. Where Hubble sees a small a part of the sky at one time, CSST will see a a lot greater image. Li used the analogy of photographing a flock of sheep to clarify its capabilities by comparability. “Hubble may see a sheep, but the CSST sees thousands, all at the same resolution,” he mentioned in a press launch assertion.

An observatory with its personal service bay

One of essentially the most distinctive elements of CSST is the place it should go in area. Originally, the telescope was going to be hooked up to the Tiangong area station, however that modified. For one factor, there’s an excessive amount of likelihood of cross-contamination from spacecraft coming and going. For one other, CSST is so delicate that it might’t be hooked up to the station. Vibration, stray gentle, and potential obstructed views would intrude with the telescope operations. Current plans are to place it in the identical orbit because the station (at about 265 miles altitude), however a secure distance away.

When the observatory wants any form of servicing, it might maneuver over to Tiangong for refueling and different upkeep actions. That plan displays a lesson realized from HST’s 70’s-era design. NASA paid for 5 on-orbit visits by astronauts to refurbish the observatory. So making the CSST serviceable by the station astronauts seems to be a money-saver for the Chinese.

CSST (also called Xuntian and Chinese Survey Space Telescope) is at present underneath ultimate building. It has been in planning and improvement since 2010.


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China declares its new flagship area telescope mission (2022, May 10)
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