NASA is currently studying the feasibility of developing a Large Deployable Reflector (LDR) astronomical facility to perform astrophysical studies of the infrared and submillimeter portion of the spectrum in the mid 1990's. The LDR concept was recommended by the Astronomy Survey Committee of the National Academy of Sciences as one of two space based projects to be started this decade. The current baseline calls for a 20 m (65.6 ft) aperture telescope diffraction limited at 30 μm and automatically deployed from a single Shuttle launch. The volume, performance, and single launch constraints place great demands on the technology and place LDR beyond the state-of-the-art in certain areas such as lightweight reflector segments.
The advent of the Shuttle is opening up many new options and capabilities for producing large space systems. Until now, LDR has always been conceived as an integrated system, deployed autonomously in a single launch. This paper will look at a combination of automatic deployment and on-orbit assembly that may reduce the technological complexity and cost of the LDR system. Many technological tools are now in use or under study that will greatly enhance our capabilities to do assembly in space. Two Shuttle volume budget scenarios will be examined to assess the potential of these tools to reduce the LDR system complexity. Further study will be required to reach the full optimal combination of deployment and assembly, since in most cases the capabilities of these new tools have not been demonstrated. In order to take maximum advantage of these concepts, the design of LDR must be flexible and allow one subsystem to be modified without adversely affecting the entire system. One method of achieving this flexibility is to use a modular design approach in which the major subsystems are physically separated during launch and assembled on orbit. A modular design approach facilitates this flexibility but requires that the subsystems be interfaced in a simple, straightforward, and controlled manner. NASA is currently defining a technology development plan for LDR which will identify the technology advances that are required. The modular approach offers the flexibility to easily incorporate these new advances into the design.