The Coronagraph Instrument (CGI) for NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will constitute a dramatic step forward for high-contrast imaging, integral field spectroscopy, and polarimetry of exoplanets and circumstellar disks, aiming to improve upon the sensitivity of current ground-based direct imaging facilities by 2-3 orders of magnitude. Furthermore, CGI will serve as a pathfinder for future exo-Earth imaging and characterization missions by demonstrating wavefront control, coronagraphy, and spectral retrieval in a new contrast regime, and by validating instrument and telescope models at unprecedented levels of precision. To achieve this jump in performance, it is critical to draw on the experience of ground-based high-contrast facilities. We discuss several areas of relevant commonalities, including: wavefront control, post-processing of integral field unit data, and calibration and observing strategies.
The High Contrast Spectroscopy Testbed for Segmented Telescopes (HCST) at Caltech is aimed at filling gaps in technology for future exoplanet imagers and providing the U.S. community with an academic facility to test components and techniques for high contrast imaging with future segmented ground-based telescope (TMT, E-ELT) and space-based telescopes (HabEx, LUVOIR). The HCST will be able to simulate segmented telescope geometries up to 1021 hexagonal segments and time-varying external wavefront disturbances. It also contains a wavefront corrector module based on two deformable mirrors followed by a classical 3-plane single-stage corona- graph (entrance apodizer, focal-plane mask, Lyot stop) and a science instrument. The back-end instrument will consist of an imaging detector and a high-resolution spectrograph, which is a unique feature of the HCST. The spectrograph instrument will utilize spectral information to characterize simulated planets at the photon-noise limit, measure the chromaticity of new optimized coronagraph and wavefront control concepts, and test the overall scientific functions of high-resolution spectrographs on future segmented telescopes.
Despite recent advances in high-contrast imaging techniques, high resolution spectroscopy for characterization of exoplanet atmospheres is still limited by our ability to suppress residual starlight speckles at the planet’s location. We have demonstrated a new concept for speckle nulling by injecting directly imaged planet light into a single-mode fiber, linking a high-contrast adaptively-corrected coronagraph to a high-resolution spectrograph (diffraction-limited or not). The restrictions on the incident electric field that will couple into the single-mode fiber give the adaptive optics system additional degrees of freedom to suppress the speckle noise on top of destructive interference. We are able to achieve a starlight suppression gains that are an order of magnitude better than conventional techniques in broadband light with minimal planet throughput losses.