NASA’s ‘Spy’ Satellites to Snoop Outer Space
Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
by Jason Taetsch
It’s not everyday that the phrase, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, can be applied to the space industry. But last week news broke that NASA will receive an unforeseen boost from the hardships of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in the form of two powerful telescopes designed for satellite imagery.
While the initial purpose of the telescopes is still under wraps, the technical specifications of the hardware have astronomers drooling.
According to MSNBC, the mirror apertures of the telescopes have a diameter of eight meters, which match the specifications of the famed Hubble Space Telescope. The shorter focal length of the telescopes give them a wider field of view than the Hubble, a feature that left many at NASA, including Dr. Grunsfeld, the NASA administrator put in charge of the telescopes, thinking about their potential applications.
As the New York Times reports, after dwelling on the potential functions of the telescopes, Grunsfeld contacted a group of astronomers to look over one of the telescope’s hardware. He was met with a resounding response: “Don’t change a thing. It’s perfect.”
The telescopes’ wider field of view, paired with the large, Hubble-like diameter, make them ideal for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program, or Wfirst, a prospective plan to study the dark energy of the universe that was languishing amid NASA’s budget issues. The repurposed telescopes could save the project upwards of $200 million dollars in construction costs.
Dark energy is the term given to the unseen force behind the continued expansion of the universe. Prior to the launch of the Hubble telescope, theorists believed that the expansion of the universe would gradually slow over time due to gravity and other forces. However, the images taken by Hubble of far-off supernovae indicate that the universe is actually expanding at a faster rate. Dark energy is believed to be the driving factor for overcoming gravity and is thought to make up 70% of the total energy in the universe, making it one of the most pivotal and least understood topics in deep space exploration.
The unique specifications of the telescopes provide a number of advantages for the Wfirst mission to survey the dark energy of the universe. The increased diameter allows the telescope to take in four times the amount of light of the originally proposed hardware, meaning it can remain in Earth’s orbit instead of traveling around the sun. It can also complete its survey of the sky in a fraction of the time of the proposed hardware for the program, leading to faster turn around and quicker results.
Though they were initially designed to discover secrets on Earth, if all goes according to plan, the telescopes are poised for an even more exciting mission: uncovering the secrets of the universe.
Jason Taetsch is a freelance content writer with experience in tech writing, blogs, travel writing, pop culture and a range of promotional materials. Jason blogs via Contently.com.