The goal of imaging planets around the nearby stars has important scientific significance but requires the use of advanced methods of controlling diffracted and scattered light. Over the last three years we have undertaken a study of coronagraphic methods of controlling diffracted light and of figuring hyper-contrast optics. Progress in these two general areas have led to a proposed space-based, 1.9 meter diameter coronagraphic telescope designed specifically for very high performance in the imaging of faint objects near bright sources. This instrument, called the Circumstellar Imaging Telescope (CIT), relies on a new high efficiency coronagraph design and the careful control of scattered light by extremely smooth optics. The high efficiency coronagraph uses focal plane apodization in order to concentrate diffracted light more efficiently in the pupil. This allows convenient removal of the diffracted light by masking off parts of the telescope pupil while not sacrificing the center of the field. Reductions of diffracted light by factors exceeding 1000 are not only possible but are required in order to detect extra-solar planets. Laboratory experiments with this new design have confirmed the theoretical diffraction reductions to the limits of the optics used (factors of about 300). The extremely high efficiency of this coronagraph puts strong constraints on the narrow angle scattered light due to figure errors in the telescope mirror. Since planets orbiting nearby stars are expected at angular distances of about 1 arcsecond, it is in this small angular range in which scattering must be controlled. The figure errors responsible for scattering in this range come from mid-spatial frequencies corresponding to correlation lengths of about 10 cm on the primary mirror. A primary mirror about 15 times smoother than the Hubble Space Telescope mirror is required for the CIT. Laboratory experiments indicate that small test mirrors can be fabricated with existing technology which come within a factor of two of this requirement.
Richard J. Terrile,
"Application Of Super Smooth Optics To Extra-Solar Planet Detection", Proc. SPIE 1113, Reflective Optics II, (11 October 1989); doi: 10.1117/12.955571; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.955571