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Korea Developing Own Space Telescope Tech

Posted April. 24, 2009 03:25,   


Today marks the 19th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope into space, a device which is nearing the end of its operational lifespan.

The world’s first space telescope has traveled 4.4 billion kilometers into space and sent back numerous photos of stars and the cosmos. Speculation is rising that a “second Hubble” will be launched around 2020.

Countries are rushing to develop state-of-the-art telescopes to replace Hubble. Korea is also expected to develop its own space telescope to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

○ Infrared space observatories

The universe continues to expand. Stars and galaxies created in the early stage of the universe’s formation are moving farther away from the Earth. Since light with long wavelengths can observe stars far away from Earth, infrared telescopes are more effective than those using visible rays in observing the early universe.

Hubble is limited in that it observes the visible parts of the spectrum.

Advanced countries are taking the lead in developing space telescopes with the ability to observe astronomical objects in infrared wavelengths. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration will send the James Webb Space Telescope into space in 2013.

The telescope’s reflector measures 6.5 meters in diameter, 2.7 times larger than that of Hubble, and this will enable the Webb telescope to observe the universe 13 billion light years away.

Japan and Europe have also joined the competition to produce infrared space observatories. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has SPICA and the European Space Agency Herschel. Herschel uses the longest infrared wavelengths and Webb the shortest, meaning Herschel can observe the most distant objects in the universe.

The United States launched Spitzer into space in 2004 and Japan sent Akari in 2006. The two space-based infrared observatories are observing celestial objects within a spectrum of two to 200 micrometers.

○ Korea’s Miris

Korea has committed itself to the development of an infrared space telescope. To carve out a niche market in space, domestic scientists want to produce an infrared space telescope that covers short wavelengths.

The Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute began developing Miris last year. Able to detect wavelengths of one to two micrometers, the infrared telescope will observe stars that Spitzer and Akari cannot see.

Miris has a wider visibility than other infrared space telescopes. With a lens eight centimeters in diameter, the 60-centimeter telescope’s focal distance is short so its visibility is 10,000 times wider than that of Hubble.

Miris’ wide-angle lens enables the telescope to observe a large number of stars simultaneously.

Institute researcher Park Jang-hyeon said, “While Hubble is good at precisely observing a tree, Miris is superior in watching wood.”

Miris will be carried into space by Korea’s Science and Technology Satellite-3 at the end of next year.

Spitzer and Akari are operating 600 kilometers away from Earth. The Center for Space Astrophysics at Yonsei University in Seoul is developing the infrared space telescope Amonra to send it 1.5 million kilometers away by 2012.

Amonra will observe the earth instead of the universe by observing infrared rays reflecting off the planet. When the Earth gets warmer, more vapors will formulate, creating clouds that cause torrential downpours and typhoons. Yonsei professor Kim Seok-hwan said, “By observing the amount of sunlight reflecting from the Earth, we can assume the degree of global warming.”

Other Korean scientists are inventing space observatories that use light other than infrared rays. The Research Center of MEMS Space Telescope at Ewha Womans University is developing a state-of-the-art telescope to observe a gamma ray burst, the strongest explosion in the universe.

NASA`s Swift satellite launched in 2004 has been observing gamma ray bursts, but has failed to detect the early stages of a burst since it needs 70 seconds to adjust its telescope to the phenomenon’s origin.

Ewha’s telescope is equipped with 10,000 one-millimeter micromirrors. Because it takes only 1/20,000th of a second to adjust the angle of the mirrors by a degree, it can observe a celestial phenomenon occurring in a fleeting moment.

Park Il-heung, head of the MEMS center, said, “While Swift looks at a burst by turning its neck, our telescope does by rolling the pupil of the eye.”

“We plan to send the telescope into space via a small NASA satellite three years from now to capture the moment when a gamma ray burst starts for the first time in the world.”