The more higher-resolution images of the Earth captured from space, the better will be for researchers to do their job. Although there are many spectacular telescopes capable of taking higher-resolution images of space from the Earth, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has come up with a new folding space telescope called Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploration (MOIRE).
MOIRE is a ground-based telescope. This telescope has a high-efficiency polymer membrane (each membrane has a thickness of household plastic wrap) which is substantially lighter than glass. Compared to traditional telescopes, MOIRE weighs roughly one-seventh. Instead of reflecting light with mirrors or refracting it with lenses, MOIRE’s membrane optics diffract light. Each membrane of MOIRE serves as a Fresnel lens. It is etched with circular concentric grooves like microscopically thin tree rings, with the grooves hundreds of microns across at the center down to only 4 microns at the outside edge. The diffractive pattern focuses light on a sensor that the satellite translates into an image.
MOIRE technology houses the membranes in thin metal “petals” that would launch in a tightly packed configuration roughly 20 feet in diameter. Upon reaching its destination orbit, a satellite would then unfold the petals to create the full-size multi-lens optics. The envisioned diameter of 20 meters (about 68 feet) would be the largest telescope optics ever made and dwarf the glass mirrors contained in the world’s most famous telescopes. Note that, MOIRE is the first ground-based telescopes to take the first images ever with membrane optics.
However, this telescope has been made to inspire others to make future high-resolution orbital telescopes to provide real-time video and images of the Earth from Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) — roughly 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface. Currently the telescope is in its second and final phase.
Lately, DARPA successfully demonstrated prototype of MOIRE. DARPA hasn’t announced when it plans to put this folding telescope in action. It is expected that MOIRE will make others to make light weighted, easily transportable and more cost-effective orbital telescopes.