AAS 204th Meeting, June 2004
Session 25 The UV/Optical Universe at Ulta-High Angular Resolution
Special Session, Monday, May 31, 2004, 2:00-3:30pm, 707/709

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[25.04] Future Prospects for Very High Angular Resolution Imaging in the UV/Optical

R. J. Allen (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Achieving the most demanding science goals outlined by the previous speakers will ultimately require the development of coherent space-based arrays of UV/Optical light collectors spread over distances of hundreds of meters. It is possible to envisage ``in situ" assembly of large segmented filled-aperture telescopes in space using components ferried up with conventional launchers. However, the cost will grow roughly as the mass of material required, and this will ultimately limit the sizes of the apertures we can afford. Furthermore, since the collecting area and the angular resolution are coupled for diffraction-limited filled apertures, the sensitivity may be much higher than is actually required to do the science.

Constellations of collectors deployed over large areas as interferometer arrays or sparse apertures offer the possibility of independently tailoring the angular resolution and the sensitivity in order to optimally match the science requirements. Several concept designs have been proposed to provide imaging data for different classes of targets such as protoplanetary disks, the nuclear regions of the nearest active galaxies, and the surfaces of stars of different types.

Constellations of identical collectors may be built and launched at lower cost through mass production, but new challenges arise when they have to be deployed. The ``aperture" synthesized is only as good as the accuracy with which the individual collectors can be placed and held to the required figure. This ``station-keeping" problem is one of the most important engineering problems to be solved before the promise of virtually unlimited angular resolution in the UV/Optical can be realized.

Among the attractive features of an array of free-flying collectors configured for imaging is the fact that the figure errors of the ``aperture" so produced may be much more random than is the case for monolithic or segmented telescopes. This can result in a significant improvement in the dynamic range and permit imaging of faint objects near much brighter extraneous nearby sources, a task presently reserved for specially-designed coronagraphs on filled apertures.

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