Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope
The Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST, now evolved and called LUVOIR-B) is an 8–meter UV-optical-NIR space telescope concept proposed by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). If launched, LUVOIR would be a replacement and successor for the HST, with the ability to obtain spectroscopic and imaging observations of astronomical objects in the ultraviolet, optical, and infrared wavelengths, but with substantially better resolution than either HST or the yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Like JWST, ATLAST would be deployed at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point.
The HDST (LUVOIR-A) and ATLAST (LUVOIR-B) are two competing versions to become LUVOIR, managed by NASA's Large Strategic Science Missions program. LUVOIR is envisioned as a Flagship mission of the 2025–2035 period, designed to determine whether there is life elsewhere in the galaxy. It would attempt to accomplish this by searching for biosignatures (such as molecular oxygen, ozone, water, and methane) in the spectra of terrestrial exoplanets.
The backronym that the early project used, 'ATLAST', was in fact a pun. It refers to the time taken to decide on a true, visible-light successor for the Hubble Space Telescope.
LUVOIR is one of four large astrophysics space mission concepts being studied in preparation for the National Academy of Sciences 2020 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, the other three concepts being: Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), Lynx X-ray Observatory, and Origins Space Telescope.
The original ATLAST proposals had a primary mirror diameter in the 8 to 16.8 meters (26 to 55 ft) range. Two different telescope architectures had been identified for ATLAST, but with similar optical designs, that span the range in technologies. The architectures are a telescope with a monolithic primary mirror and two variations of a telescope with a large segmented primary mirror. The concepts invoke heritage from the HST and JWST designs, but also take significant departures from these designs to minimize complexity, mass, or both. ATLAST would have an angular resolution that is 5–10 times better than JWST and a sensitivity limit that is up to 2,000 times better than HST.
Two of the concepts, the 8 meters (26 ft) monolithic mirror telescope and the 16.8 meters (55 ft) segmented mirror telescope, span the range of UVOIR (ultraviolet, optical, infrared) observatories that are enabled by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle and the satellite delivery version of SpaceX's BFR vehicle. The third concept, a 9.2 meters (30 ft) segmented mirror telescope is compatible with the existing Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).
The 8 m ATLAST concept (now called LUVOIR-B) offers the inherent advantages of a monolithic aperture telescope in terms of high-contrast imaging and superb wavefront control. The 8 m segmented mirror ATLAST adopts JWST design heritage, essentially being an incrementally larger variant of the JWST, which has a 6.5 m segmented main mirror.
LUVOIR-B (ATLAST) would be able to be serviced, much like the HST has been. Using either a robotic ferry (the currently proposed method), or an astronaut crew flying in an Orion spacecraft (which would allow NASA to gain experience for future crewed Solar System missions), instruments such as cameras would be replaced and returned to Earth for analysis of their components and future upgrades. Like the HST and JWST, ATLAST would be powered by solar panels.
The LUVOIR technology development plan is supported with funding from NASA's Astrophysics Strategic Mission Concept Studies program, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and related programs at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and Ball Aerospace.
This space observatory was originally intended to be launched from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A atop of the Ares V. Following the cancellation of that vehicle, the telescope would launch aboard the Space Launch System (SLS). This 8-meter version would launch from NASA facilities capable of launching EELVs. Much like the proposed Orion/Altair flights to the Moon, the SLS would place the space observatory into a "parking" orbit while engineers check out the systems. Once cleared, the engine would fire again and the telescope would begin a three-month journey to the Sun-Earth L2 point, entering a halo orbit around the Lagrange point. The segmented versions of the telescope would deploy their optics while en route.
Servicing missions, launched every 5 to 7 years, would allow astronomers to upgrade the telescope with new instruments and technologies. Like the HST, the telescope should achieve or exceed a 20-year service timespan.
LUVOIR-B (formerly ATLAST) would use an internal coronagraph or an external occulter, can characterize the atmosphere and surface of an Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable zone of long-lived stars at distances up to 140 light-years (43 pc), including its rotation rate, climate, and habitability. The telescope would also allow researchers to glean information on the nature of the dominant surface features, changes in cloud cover and climate, and, potentially, seasonal variations in surface vegetation.
- "NASA Team Lays Plans to Observe New Worlds". NASA. July 23, 2014.
- Postman, Marc; et al. (6 April 2009). "Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST): A Technology Roadmap for the Next Decade" (PDF). RFI submitted to Astro2010 Decadal Committee. arXiv:0904.0941. Bibcode:2009arXiv0904.0941P.
- Reddy, Francis (August 2008). "Where will astronomy be in 35 years?". Astronomy.
- LUVOIR - Design. NASA. J.D. Myers. Accessed on 17 July 2019.
- "ATLAST — Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope". Space Telescope Science Institute.
- Werner, Michael; et al. (14 May 2016). "Extension of ATLAST/LUVOIR's Capabilities to 5 Microns, or Beyond". arXiv:1605.04367 [astro-ph.IM].
ATLAST and HDST can be thought of as possible implementations of LUVOIR.
- Cofield, Calla (1 February 2016). "NASA's Next Great Space Telescope: The Quest Begins". Space.com.
One of the most recent such proposals has been named the "High Definition Space Telescope," (HDST), but the general concept is called LUVOIR (Large Ultraviolet Visible Infrared).
- Foust, Jeff (Jan 21, 2019). "Selecting the next great space observatory".
- Postman, M.; Traub, W. A.; Krist, J.; et al. (19 November 2009). Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST): Characterizing Habitable Worlds. Pathways Towards Habitable Planets Symposium. 14-18 September 2009. Barcelona, Spain. arXiv:0911.3841. Bibcode:2010ASPC..430..361P.