In this paper I will describe work done as part of an EU-funded project ‘Far-infrared space interferometer critical assessment’ (FISICA). The aim of the project is to investigate science objectives and technology development required for the next generation THz space interferometer. The THz/FIR is precisely the spectral region where most of the energy from stars, exo-planetary systems and galaxy clusters deep in space is emitted. The atmosphere is almost completely opaque in the wave-band of interest so any observation that requires high quality data must be performed with a space-born instrument. A space-borne far infrared interferometer will be able to answer a variety of crucial astrophysical questions such as how do planets and stars form, what is the energy engine of most galaxies and how common are the molecule building blocks of life. The FISICA team have proposed a novel instrument based on a double Fourier interferometer that is designed to resolve the light from an extended scene, spectrally and spatially. A laboratory prototype spectral-spatial interferometer has been constructed to demonstrate the feasibility of the double-Fourier technique at far infrared wavelengths (0.15 - 1 THz). This demonstrator is being used to investigate and validate important design features and data-processing methods for future instruments. Using electromagnetic modelling techniques several issues related to its operation at long baselines and wavelengths, such as diffraction, have been investigated. These are critical to the design of the concept instrument and the laboratory testbed.
Many important astrophysical processes occur at wavelengths that fall within the far-infrared band of the EM spectrum, and over distance scales that require sub-arc second spatial resolution. It is clear that in order to achieve sub-arc second resolution at these relatively long wavelengths (compared to optical/near-IR), which are strongly absorbed by the atmosphere, a space-based far-IR interferometer will be required. We present analysis of the optical system for a proposed spatial-spectral interferometer, discussing the challenges that arise when designing such a system and the simulation techniques employed that aim to resolve these issues. Many of these specific challenges relate to combining the beams from multiple telescopes where the wavelengths involved are relatively short (compared to radio interferometry), meaning that care must be taken with mirror surface quality, where surface form errors not only present potential degradation of the single system beams, but also serve to reduce fringe visibility when multiple telescope beams are combined. Also, the long baselines required for sub-arc second resolution present challenges when considering propagation of the relatively long wavelengths of the signal beam, where beam divergence becomes significant if the beam demagnification of the telescopes is not carefully considered. Furthermore, detection of the extremely weak far-IR signals demands ultra-sensitive detectors and instruments capable of operating at maximum efficiency. Thus, as will be shown, care must be taken when designing each component of such a complex quasioptical system.
We present an ongoing effort to achieve a Double Fourier Modulating (DFM) interferometer in the thermal infrared wavelength range. We describe a testbed designed to combine a sky simulator in the form of a miniaturized complex calibration source at the focus of a parabolic collimator with an interferometer baseline consisting of two parallel telescopes each mounted on a motorized linear stage. The two input arms are combined after one of them is modulated via a fast-scanning piezoelectric roof-top mirror. The optical design and layout of the testbed, the choice of interferometer parameters as well as the calibration scene adopted as source are described.