This paper investigates the potential role of small satellites, specifically those often referred to as CubeSats, in the future of infrared astronomy. Whilst CubeSats are seen as excellent (and inexpensive) ways to demonstrate and improve the readiness of critical (space) technologies of the future they also potentially have a role in solving key astrophysical problems. The pros and cons of such small platforms are considered and evaluated with emphasis on the technological limitations and how these might be improved. Three case studies are presented for applications in the IR region. One of the main challenges of operating in the IR is that the detector invariably needs to be cooled. This is a significant undertaking requiring additional platform volume and power and is one of the major areas of discussion in this paper. Whilst the small aperture on a CubeSat inevitably has limitations both in terms of sensitivity and angular resolution when compared to large ground-based and space-borne telescopes, the prospect of having distributed arrays of tens (perhaps hundreds) of IR-optimised CubeSats in the future offers enormous potential. Finally, we summarise the key technology developments needed to realise the case study missions in the form of a roadmap.
Wayne Holland, Steve Watson, Colin Cunningham, Tom Bradshaw, Martin Crook, Andy Vick, David Pearson, Maria Milanova, Steve Greenland, Stephen Todd, Chris Waring, Ewan Fitzsimons, and Donald MacLeod, "CubeSats for infrared astronomy," Proc. SPIE 10698, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2018: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave, 106981T (Presented at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation: June 14, 2018; Published: 6 July 2018); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2311431.
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