By Peter Lawson
The National Research Council recently ranked exoplanet technology amongst NASA’s top 16 highest priority technologies. The NRC recommendations, NASA Space Technology Roadmaps and Priorities: Restoring NASA’s Technological Edge and Paving the Way for a New Era in Space, was released in early February. High Contrast Imaging and Spectroscopic Technologies were cited as game changing and received the panel’s highest score “due to its high scientific value, relevance to multiple NASA science mission areas, and high ratings for risk and reasonableness.” Also ranked amongst the top 16 technologies were those of active wavefront sensing & control as well has technologies for large active light-weight mirrors, both captured under the heading of Optical Systems. The NRC report should serve as a reference for future funding decisions within NASA, and in particular its Office of the Chief Technologist.
Work funded under the 2009 Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions (TDEM) is coming to a conclusion this spring, at the same time that work from the 2010 awards is commencing. Of particular note is the Advanced Speckle Sensing for Internal Coronagraphs, with principal investigator Steve Kendrick (Ball Aerospace), whose final report is now in preparation. A “self-coherent camera” approach was demonstrated to yield essentially identical results to the Electric Field Conjugation approach that has been standard in the HCIT testbeds; the results were obtained with contrasts deeper than 10-8 and bandwidths as large as 10%.
The Coronagraph Low-Order Wavefront Sensor, used in Olivier Guyon’s (University of Arizona) Phase Induced Amplitude Apodization experiments in the HCIT-2 has similarly reached Milestone performance levels. Moreover the starshade petal manufacturing demonstrations conducted by Jeremy Kasdin (Princeton University) at JPL, promise to be successful as well.
The Technology Assessment Committee is now lined up for several reviews this spring. First up will be Eugene Serabyn’s (JPL) Whitepaper for vector vortex experiments. The Committee will also be visiting the NASA Ames Research Center on May 30th for a tour of the Ames Coronagraph Experiment, run by Ruslan Belikov. Rus will be supporting Glenn Schneider (University of Arizona) in his Category III technology demonstrations in support of the EXCEDE mission proposal. On May 31 the TAC will tour the facilities at JPL and review the Whitepaper by Jagmit Sandhu (JPL) for visible nulling coronagraphy, as well as John Trauger’s (JPL) Report for his Hybrid Lyot Mask effort.
Unfortunately, the TDEM component of the ROSES 2011 Strategic Astrophysics Technology solicitation was withdrawn. Although this is a setback to our efforts in exoplanet technology, the previously funded efforts from 2009 and 2010 are not effected and will continue as planned. We look forward to a renewed TDEM solicitation next year.