Modular Active Self-Assembling Space Telescope Swarms
We are currently working to establish the feasibility of constructing giant space telescopes, far beyond the scale that would be possible with conventional construction techniques, out of standardized, mass-produced modules. These modules will be launched individually or in small groups, preferably as payloads of opportunity on other launches, and would navigate to the vicinity of the Sun-Earth L2 point using solar sails for propulsion. There, the swarm of modules would assemble autonomously, taking advantage of the novel dynamical environment, with the top sides of the modules becoming segments of the telescope mirror, while the solar sails become components of a giant, planar sun-shield. The mirror segments would all be active optics to allow for the setting and control of the required overall mirror shape.
Automated Alignment and Control of Optical Systems
Our lab facility is used to study problems associated with automating the alignment and maintenance of complex beam paths for high-precision optical systems such as high-contrast imagers and laser communications systems. In particular, we study the potential and limits of focal-plane, low-order wavefront sensing to correct for system misalignments, or steer moveable system optics using only imaging data.
Gemini Planet Imager
The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a next-generation exoplanet direct imaging instrument currently being commissioned at the Gemini South Observatory in Chile. We assisted with GPI commissioning and first light activities and are actively involved in the currently ongoing Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey – an 890 hour on-sky campaign to directly image nearby, young, giant exoplanets. We also participate in the development and support of the GPI Data Reduction Pipeline – a code base for processing and working with GPI data. This work includes research on computer vision and high-contrast post-processing algorithms. SIOSlab provides key infrastructure for the campaign and broader GPIES team.
Modeling for WFIRST
NASA’s Wide-Field InfraRed Space Telescope (WFIRST) mission is scheduled to launch in the mid 2020s and will include a coronagraphic instrument for direct imaging of exoplanets from space. We supported the work of the WFIRST-AFTA science definition team by simulating the possible science returns of this planned instrument in order to improve the instrument design and set specific science goals for the overall mission. Currently SIOSlab is a member of the WFIRST Coronagraph Science Investigation Team (SIT) and will support WFIRST development through Phase A. This work includes modeling of the distribution of exoplanets in our galaxy using data from previous ground and space surveys, and creating tools for predicting the effects of engineering decisions on final mission science yield.
Optimizing Space Mission Scheduling
Upcoming and future space missions will have increasing autonomy in how they schedule and carry out various tasks. We model and simulate full missions to figure out how to make them more efficient and achieve mission goals as quickly as possible. This research has been extensively applied to scheduling observations by formation-flying space telescopes.
Extracting Signals from Direct Imaging
In the search for exoplanets, direct imaging techniques (taking observations of stars and looking directly for the signal of a planet that may be orbiting it) can be a valuable approach. One common method of post-processing images used now is Principle Component Analysis, a type of Blind Source Separation algorithm. Given the widespread use of PCA, it follows that other BSS algorithms may also yield promising results. This research examines the following techniques: Independent Component Analysis, Common Spatial Pattern Filtering, and Stationary Subspace Analysis. These have been used in a variety of fields, yet this is one of the first forays into analyzing astronomic images.
To do this, we are developing and using synthetic data that mimics observations from the Gemini Planet Imager instrument. Additionally, we are generating ways to evaluate these images after post-processing, like mapping the Signal-Noise Ratio throughout an image.
Dynamical Studies of Planetary Systems
We work on a variety of dynamics problems associated with planetary systems including orbit fitting to observational data, efficient orbit propagation for N-body systems, and development of novel trajectories for new space missions. Past work has also included studies of mass transfer between stars and long term numerical integration of the solar system to search for stable objects near the Lagrange points.
Gravity Assist Optimization for a Zodiacal Light Imaging Mission
Zodiacal light is caused by clouds of dust that scatter and emit light from a star. The dust clouds impact spacecraft in our solar system, create noise in space imaging, and obscure exoplanets from observation. The structure of these dust clouds has only been predicted through simulations; to obtain images a spacecraft will need to observe from a point of view above the ecliptic plane. This proposed spacecraft will detach from a primary interplanetary mission, undergo its own corrective maneuvers to properly intercept a planet for a gravity assist, and achieve the sufficient inclination for at least a 0.1AU orbital height above the ecliptic plane. Current work includes the optimization of the flyby parameters to minimize Δv; this will limit mass and allow the payload to be launched in a 3U CubeSat or smaller.