that mission to use the sun as a gravitational lens (kinda OT but part of a recent thread)

Richard Crisp



A mission architecture to reach and operate at the focal region of the solar gravitational lens

Henry HelvajianAlan RosenthalJohn PoklembaThomas A. BattistaMarc D. DiPrinzioJon M. NeffJohn P. McVeyViktor T. TothSlava G. Turyshev

We present initial results of an ongoing engineering study on the feasibility of a space mission to the focal region of the solar gravitational lens (SGL). The mission goal is to conduct exoplanet imaging operations at heliocentric distances in the range ~548-900 astronomical units (AU). Starting at 548 AU from the Sun, light from an exoplanet located behind the Sun is greatly amplified by the SGL. The objective is to capture this light and use it for multipixel imaging of an exoplanet up to 100 light years distant. Using a meter-class telescope one can produce images of the exoplanet with a surface resolution measured in tens of kilometers and to identify signs of habitability. The data are acquired pixel-by-pixel while moving an imaging spacecraft within the image. Given the long duration of the mission, decades to 900 AU, we address an architecture for the fastest possible transit time while reducing mission risk and overall cost. The mission architecture implements solar sailing technologies and in-space aggregation of modularized functional units to form mission capable spacecraft. The study reveals elements of such a challenging mission, but it is nevertheless found to be feasible with technologies that are either extant or in active development.


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