NASA is studying a possible starshade flying in formation with the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (Roman). The starshade would perform weeks-long translational retargeting maneuvers between target stars. A retargeting architecture that is based on chemical propulsion and does not require ground tracking or interactions with the telescope during the retargeting cruise is introduced. Feasibility is demonstrated through a covariance analysis of the starshade-telescope relative position over several weeks using realistic sensor and actuator assumptions. Performance is sufficient for Roman to reacquire the starshade after retargeting, and the architecture is shown to be applicable to other mission concepts such as the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx). Results are verified through high-fidelity simulations, and driving sources of uncertainty are identified to confirm the robustness of the approach.
Several starshade concepts for imaging exo-Earths would operate at the second Earth–Sun Lagrange point (L2) and consist of a starshade flying in formation tens to hundreds of thousands of kilometers from a telescope. The starshade would need to maintain meter-level lateral alignment with the line of sight from telescope to target star. A companion paper describes an optical sensing scheme using a pupil imaging camera in the telescope that can sense the relative lateral position to a few centimeters. A full flight-traceable formation flying framework that leverages this sensor is presented. In particular, a two-dimensional “disk deadbanding” algorithm is introduced for lateral control. The framework also maximizes the drift time between thruster burns to reduce interruption to scientific observations. The main sources of uncertainty affecting the control performance are compared, and it is found that spacecraft mass uncertainty is a driving factor. The formation flying environment is also analyzed to identify conditions that lead to worst-case differential gravity and solar radiation pressure disturbances. Finally, for a representative observation scenario with the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope, this control system is tested through Monte Carlo simulations. The results show robust meter-level control with essentially optimal drift time between thruster burns.
A key challenge for starshades is formation flying. To successfully image exoplanets, the telescope boresight and starshade must be aligned to ∼1 m at separations of tens of thousands of kilometers. This challenge has two parts: first, the relative position of the starshade with respect to the telescope must be sensed; second, sensor measurements must be combined with a control law to keep the two spacecraft aligned in the presence of gravitational and other disturbances. In this work, we present an optical sensing approach using a pupil imaging camera in a 2.4-m telescope that can measure the relative spacecraft bearing to a few centimeters in 1 s, much faster than any relevant dynamical disturbances. A companion paper will describe how this sensor can be combined with a control law to keep the two spacecraft aligned with minimal interruptions to science observations.
Starshades, large occulters positioned tens of thousands of kilometers in front of space telescopes, offer one of the few paths to imaging and characterizing Earth-like extrasolar planets. However, for a starshade to generate a sufficiently dark shadow on the telescope, the two must be coaligned to just 1 meter laterally, even at these large separations. The principal challenge to achieving this level of control is in determining the position of the starshade with respect to the space telescope. In this paper, we present numerical simulations and laboratory results demonstrating that a Zernike wavefront sensor coupled to a WFIRST-type telescope is able to deliver the stationkeeping precision required, by measuring light outside of the science wavelengths. The sensor can determine the starshade lateral position to centimeter level in seconds of open shutter time for stars brighter than eighth magnitude, with a capture range of 10 meters. We discuss the potential for fast (ms) tip/tilt pointing control at the milli-arcsecond level by illuminating the sensor with a laser mounted on the starshade. Finally, we present early laboratory results.
An architecture and conceptual design for a robotically assembled, modular space telescope (RAMST) that enables extremely large space telescopes to be conceived is presented. The distinguishing features of the RAMST architecture compared with prior concepts include the use of a modular deployable structure, a general-purpose robot, and advanced metrology, with the option of formation flying. To demonstrate the feasibility of the robotic assembly concept, we present a reference design using the RAMST architecture for a formation flying 100-m telescope that is assembled in Earth orbit and operated at the Sun–Earth Lagrange Point 2.