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Want a consumer telecope in orbit?

Imaging Observatory Observing
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#1 nholden

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:15 PM

Hi Astronomers,

 

I’m a Space Systems Engineering masters student preparing for my final capstone project. A topic I’m considering is exploring the viability of putting a consumer telescope in space. However, I’m an engineering student and not an astronomer, so the question I have is, would you want it?

 

My current working assumptions are:
Small <15kg telescope, otherwise launch costs are too expensive.
Accessible to anyone, you could rent time on the telescope.
Probably only capable of still images, but as I research more it might be possible to stream live video, would this be of value?

 

Love to hear your thoughts, is this worth exploring? Is there any value in putting a small telescope in space? Any obvious problems etc…?

 

Update: The 15kg number is just for the payload/telescope. I'l be using an off-the-shelf bus, and that will take care of all power, control and comms.

 

Thanks for your help!
Nick


Edited by nholden, 15 April 2021 - 02:55 PM.


#2 alphatripleplus

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:20 PM

There are remote observing options on Earth at dark sites, so I would not personally be interested in access to a small scope in orbit ... unless I had close to 100% of its time. smile.gif


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#3 P_Myers

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:21 PM

Already in play with a company called Space Fab....


https://www.spacefab.us/about.html

Edited by P_Myers, 15 April 2021 - 01:22 PM.

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#4 happylimpet

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:26 PM

The only advantages of a telescope in orbit are the possibility of imaging at wavelengths impossible from the ground (ie UV) and the high resolution possible without an atmosphere. I cant imagine a huge amateur interest in the former.

 

If you can nail the latter - say a 10" scope achieving diffraction limited ~0.5" resolution, you might have a winner. But all the servos etc to make everything collimatable etc would start to get heavy quickly.


Edited by happylimpet, 15 April 2021 - 01:27 PM.


#5 endless-sky

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:28 PM

Who wouldn't want a non-light pollution, non-atmosphere limited astrograph?

 

Sing me up, please!

 

EDIT: also, no Moon, no weather, can image stuff from both emispheres...


Edited by endless-sky, 15 April 2021 - 01:37 PM.

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#6 Mark9473

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 01:29 PM

One that looks down would be cool.

#7 CMDRExorcist

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:09 PM

I'd love to use a 12" SkyQuest Dob in orbit... :)



#8 Hawkdl2

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:10 PM

Do you expect the entire imaging package to weight 15kg?  Are you considering the guidance, telemetry, image tracking and data transfer systems that will be necessary to find and lock on a target for extended periods of time, store collected data for some time, then transmit it to a ground based station?  I would also expect to have to collimate the telescope after the stresses of launch. I'm not aware of anyone who can collimate a consumer telescope remotely, but maybe someone knows how to do this.  And have you looked into whether consumer imaging cameras will even operate in space - I don't think any I am aware of are rated for temps that low.  And assuming you want this to be in orbit for some time, you'll probably want to accommodate uploading new software for all of the systems.  And don't forget back-up systems for nearly everything.  It's kind of hard to imagine doing this with a consumer user in mind, but it's an interesting project.  Good luck.   

 

I think your market would be universities, maybe groups of amateurs, but probably not individuals, and universities will want higher end optics up there, and probably larger than 10", so the weight and cost will go up pretty fast by the time you factor in all the support systems you'll need and the expectations of your clients.  There are already remote telescopes in places like Chile that one can rent time on, but even those are not exactly cheap to access for the average consumer astronomer. 


Edited by Hawkdl2, 15 April 2021 - 02:17 PM.

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#9 Astrojensen

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:11 PM

 Is there any value in putting a small telescope in space? 

No. There's only value in it, if its aperture is large enough, that it would normally get seriously impacted by the Earth's atmosphere. This basically means apertures above 0.5 meter, preferably well above 1 meter. 

 

You also need to take advantage of the fact that you now have access to parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are normally out of reach, since a lot of important science is done there. This means you can't use refractive optics. 

 

A serious challenge with telescopes in orbit is image stability and image tracking. You need to be able to control and maintain the pointing of the telescope to a precision greater than its resolving power.

 

You also need some serious transmission bandwidth to send all the image data back to Earth. This is not a trivial matter, either.   

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark


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#10 Astrojensen

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:14 PM

 I would also expect to have to collimate the telescope after the stresses of launch. I'm not aware of anyone who can collimate a consumer telescope remotely, but maybe someone knows how to do this.  

A friend of mine has built a newtonian with remote collimation. He's looking into automating the process via wavefront analysis software. 

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark


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#11 rhetfield

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:15 PM

Already in play with a company called Space Fab....


https://www.spacefab.us/about.html

Would the 15kg weight limit be the whole satellite or just the scope?  If the whole satellite,  that could be a real challenge. 

 

The OP's job as an engineer would be to figure out how to build a competitive space scope that is only 1/10th the weight.  That would mean looking not just at the scope but also at the comms, navigation, propulsion, and power source.  It would either need to compete with the Spacefab scope at less than $50/minute or be able to outperform ground based scopes at an even more affordable price point.

 

I doubt that there are any easy weight savings with the comms, navigation, propulsion or power supply - lots of engineers working on that problem over the last 60 years or so.  Especially since the satellite will need to do lots of maneuvering to point at targets.

 

I suspect that if the whole thing needs to be under 15kg that it will be very quickly found to not be viable and not enough to be a worthy masters project.  The Spacefab people already working on it is another strike against it being a good masters project.  Only if the OP comes up with a major breakthrough will it be a good project.  That would have to happen quickly.  Otherwise the OP would have to shelf it for later consideration.


Edited by rhetfield, 15 April 2021 - 02:24 PM.

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#12 TOMDEY

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:26 PM

Hi, Nick!

 

If "available to anyone - consumers rent time on it" is your mission/vision --- then your ~Business Case~ would probably be 90% of the challenge. This reminds me of the CRSS "Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites" that I worked on decades ago. Those were glowingly successful, but still very "high-end" full-capability systems that attracted correspondingly high-end customers. The customers stated what they wanted images of but otherwise were non-participatory on the operations side of the fence. Imaging time is very expensive and precious, especially if the observatory is space-based. That means a professional ops staff 24/7. At that point it takes on all the baggage of the professional ground-based observatories --- and more.

 

So, as a Systems Engineer you will at least need to address that aspect of the study, even if only glancingly.

 

On the other hand if the assignment is intended to actually be 90% Technical. You can probably just mention some very optimistic boundary conditions involving users and operational funding and logistics. And then just dive into the technicalities. As you undoubtably already know, even the technicalities explosively mushroom, as one dives into the details --- which explains why The School has defined the assignment that way. Sounds like fun!    Tom

 

CRSS Program Coffee Mug --- anytime there's a successful launch and initialization, the team gets mugs, various rewards, and T-Shirts >>>

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#13 ReneF

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:37 PM

This would be very feasible, and a perfect match for my other hobby, amateur radio. Ham radio operators have been building and launching their own satellites for decades.  The first one was OSCAR (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio).  The technology has now evolved to cube satellites where the cube is a standard size of 10cm x 10cm x 10 cm.  You can link together cubes, so a package can be built of cubes to house a telescope, and then communication and control equipment. Typically ham operators team up with a university and make a research project out of it, as the design is complex, especially regarding the environmental factors in space. They take years to build in a school lab.  Then, there are many launches wordwide where the cargo is dozens of cube sats for various owners. The Universities make known their need for a launch, and in the event one of the launch vehicles cannot fill their cub space, they allow the amateur radio satellite a free launch.  This might take years to wait for one. Then finally one day, the cube sat is in orbit. A starting point it so know the Amateur Radio Organization of hams that build these satellites, it is AMSAT found here:  https://www.amsat.org/

 

And an example success story, is a university in my neighborhood, Cal State University Northridge, where a professor who was a ham, put his students to work, and then got a launch a few years ago, in concert with the JPL.  The story can be read here:  https://www.csun.edu/cubesat/   It is still in orbit. The bottom line is that putting an amateur telescope in orbit can be done for no money, if you get interested amateur astronomers, amateur radio operators, and a University which makes the politics of getting a free launch easier. I for one would be very interested, and my amateur radio call sign is WA6MJE.  And from time to time I work the Amateur Satellites from my back yard when they fly by.  Here is a wikipedia page on the Cube Sat standardized module.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat


Edited by ReneF, 15 April 2021 - 02:40 PM.

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#14 nholden

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 02:56 PM

Already in play with a company called Space Fab....


https://www.spacefab.us/about.html

Thanks for the tip. I had a look at Space Fab. It looks like they haven't quite solved it yet. "These purchases are for images once we have launched our imaging satellites and it may be several years before they are available."



#15 nholden

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 03:02 PM

Do you expect the entire imaging package to weight 15kg?  Are you considering the guidance, telemetry, image tracking and data transfer systems that will be necessary to find and lock on a target for extended periods of time, store collected data for some time, then transmit it to a ground based station?  I would also expect to have to collimate the telescope after the stresses of launch. I'm not aware of anyone who can collimate a consumer telescope remotely, but maybe someone knows how to do this.  And have you looked into whether consumer imaging cameras will even operate in space - I don't think any I am aware of are rated for temps that low.  And assuming you want this to be in orbit for some time, you'll probably want to accommodate uploading new software for all of the systems.  And don't forget back-up systems for nearly everything.  It's kind of hard to imagine doing this with a consumer user in mind, but it's an interesting project.  Good luck.   

 

I think your market would be universities, maybe groups of amateurs, but probably not individuals, and universities will want higher end optics up there, and probably larger than 10", so the weight and cost will go up pretty fast by the time you factor in all the support systems you'll need and the expectations of your clients.  There are already remote telescopes in places like Chile that one can rent time on, but even those are not exactly cheap to access for the average consumer astronomer. 

Thanks for the feedback. I'll look to use an off-the-shelf bus to handle all control, comms and power. So the 15kg is just the payload. Canon launched EOS 5 Mark III into orbit for earth photography. 



#16 Sandy Swede

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Posted 15 April 2021 - 03:11 PM

Yes, I would want it at a certain price point, if . . .

Many times the engineering question is, "Can this system be scaled up?"  In this case, I think the question would be, "Can this system be scaled down?"   System = any of the 8 visible-light telescopes currently in orbit.  As others have pointed out above, by the time you deduct even minimal weights for telemetry, guidance, etc., the residual for the imaging train may be pitifully small.  Ground based telescopes would probably exceed the capabilities of your consumer scope, notwithstanding its per minute cost.  The 'juice wouldn't be worth the squeeze."

 

Hubble launch weight was approx 24,000 lbs.  Primary mirror diameter of 2.4 meters.


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#17 treadmarks

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Posted 16 April 2021 - 02:51 PM

One that looks down would be cool.

This has already been done. NASA has a Celestron SCT installed on the ISS for Earth observation.


Edited by treadmarks, 16 April 2021 - 02:51 PM.


#18 LauraMS

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Posted 17 April 2021 - 02:33 AM

A space telescope would benefit from two factors:

 

  • no atmosphere, i.e. access to UV and IR, and no seeing issues. To make use of UV one would not need a huge aperture according to Dawes limit (angular resolution) but detectors become an issue at wavelengths significantly shorter than 400nm. For IR one needs large aperture to keep resolution up. Over 1um detectors become an issue as well, and they may need cooling which is extra issue in space.
  • little gravitational forces (after launch). This allows for much lighter optics (thinner mirrors) and structure. Say you have a mass budget of 15kg. One design criterion might be to say you put 50% of that into the main mirror (you may not need a secondary in a Newtonian design), and 50% into structure, radiation-cooled (you are in space!) detector, filter wheel, electromechanical actuators for remote adjustments, etc..

 

Overall, the key interest would be to have as large mirror in space as feasible. Looking at Mike Lockwood's mirrors a 'thin' 20inch quartz is 30lbs, i.e. 13kg. A bit too much, but a mirror in space maybe thinner without producing astigmatism, ideally be made of Zerodur.

 

Without further information ( I am physicist by education preferring to look at general principles rather than technical details grin.gif) I would speculate that a 16 - 24 inch f/5 amateur/consumer telescope dedicated to planetary and/or solar imaging might make sense for amateurs, even for professionals from those fields coming from smaller universities and research institutes. An ideal field for pro/am collaboration.

 

If it would be more consumer ('mass') directed ('do you want to photograph the milkyway or your home from space?' ), a large detector may be essential. For pro/am more like a low noise detector.

 

Some hurdles which may need consideration:

  • cosmic rays, in particular following solar CMEs, resulting in radiation damage of electronics, 
  • Rapid data transfer of image data (to skip need of heavy on board computer) 
  • ... 

 

I have no idea about technical details and if this is feasible from a financial perspective but neglecting that, I think it could be doable, would be beneficial both for amateurs, pro's and even the general population (think 'citizen science'). And it would be exciting! 

 

Keep us posted on your further thinking and maybe the final version of your thesis!

Best wishes,
Laura


Edited by LauraMS, 17 April 2021 - 02:40 AM.

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#19 BillP

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Posted 17 April 2021 - 10:07 AM

Hi Astronomers,

 

I’m a Space Systems Engineering masters student preparing for my final capstone project. A topic I’m considering is exploring the viability of putting a consumer telescope in space. However, I’m an engineering student and not an astronomer, so the question I have is, would you want it?

 

My current working assumptions are:
Small <15kg telescope, otherwise launch costs are too expensive.
Accessible to anyone, you could rent time on the telescope.
Probably only capable of still images, but as I research more it might be possible to stream live video, would this be of value?

Hi Nick.  This sounds like an excellent idea.  I think it would be commercially viable also.  The twist is that those most likely to want it would be imagers, so this is actually the wrong forum to post your question.  If you send a PM to one of the moderators and ask them to move it they will.  Best forum would be: Astrophotography and Sketching → Experienced Deep Sky Imaging.

 

I do not think a "consumer" telescope would be viable though.  As others have mentioned it would need to be able to accurately stay on target for successful imaging.  So the scope would really need to be custom made IMO, or an altered consumer scope that can 1) withstand the rigors of launch and space, 2) be permanently collimated, 3) have sufficient aperture for amateur imagers to be happy with - best to query them on this and make sure they keep it reasonable, so something akin to a 14-20" SCT should really suffice IMO as the point is to not make vastly more aperture available but one that is free of the atmosphere and all the limits it imposes with cross-hemisphere accessibility I would think. Besides, always best to start small and let the community after some years of use decide on missing capabilities they would want and launch a 2.0 version that addresses those needs and has all the lessons-learned incorporated. The imaging sensor would also have to be able to handle an array of selectable filters for the imagers as well.  So another reason why the scope cannot be just an off-the-shelf consumer scope.

 

Now how to really make it interesting, would be to have two scopes up there, one servicing the northern hemisphere of objects and the other the southern.  And I am sure that all the northern hemisphere imagers would really want to get time on the southern hemisphere scope!

 

Another, less complex item you could think about would be to place a private webcam platform in space that is always streaming and open to the public.  Would be quite intriguing to just at any moment peer down onto Earth or up into space (so multiple cameras).  Yes there are some of these already as part of national endeavors but they are spotty at best.  My thinking is one that is constantly streaming and there is a repository of all past streams for people to papoose.  The live look could be free but access to the repository could be for paying subscription.


Edited by BillP, 17 April 2021 - 10:10 AM.

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#20 csrlice12

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Posted 17 April 2021 - 11:26 AM

Could be more expensive than you think.  You're not going to be able to grab a scope off the shelf and strap on some manuvering jets on it.  The scope will need rebuilt to consider the expansion and contraction of ALL parts, including the screws, lens cell, electric focuser, etc.  It must be capable of going from 360+*f to near absolute zero in a heartbeat and still function.  Those $600 hammers..... there's a reason they cost $600.



#21 Am33r

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Posted 24 April 2021 - 01:48 PM

Place an Optical Telescopes (This one) in a geostationary orbit (like a commercial communication satellite) for ease of sending instructions, and receiving date from the ground station.

 

But what exactly are you trying to achieve?

 

Example: You want to signup into the module for a slot of 60 second observation, click on go-to Jupiter Right Now in visible spectrum, and Stream the imagery to your cell phone screen?




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