29 July 2016 The maturing of high contrast imaging and starlight suppression techniques for future NASA exoplanet characterization missions
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Abstract
Over 3000 exoplanets and hundreds of exoplanetary systems have been detected to date and we are now rapidly moving toward an era where the focus is shifting from detection to direct imaging and spectroscopic characterization of these new worlds and their atmospheres. NASA is currently studying several exoplanet characterization mission concepts for the 2020 Decadal Survey ranging from probe class to flagships. Detailed and comprehensive exoplanet characterization, particularly of exo-Earths, leading to assessment of habitability, or indeed detection of life, will require significant advances beyond the current state-of-the-art in high contrast imaging and starlight suppression techniques which utilize specially shaped precision optical elements to block the light from the parent star while controlling scattering and diffraction thus revealing and enabling spectroscopic study of the orbiting exoplanets in reflected light. In this paper we describe the two primary high contrast starlight suppression techniques currently being pursued by NASA: 1) coronagraphs (including several design variations) and 2) free-flying starshades. These techniques are rapidly moving from the technology development phase to the design and engineering phase and we discuss the prospects and projected performance for future exoplanet characterization missions utilizing these techniques coupled with large aperture telescopes in space.
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Daniel R. Coulter, Daniel R. Coulter, David B. Gallagher, David B. Gallagher, Nicholas Siegler, Nicholas Siegler, Stuart Shaklan, Stuart Shaklan, Karl Stapelfeldt, Karl Stapelfeldt, Wesley A. Traub, Wesley A. Traub, } "The maturing of high contrast imaging and starlight suppression techniques for future NASA exoplanet characterization missions", Proc. SPIE 9904, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave, 99041S (29 July 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2231137; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2231137
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