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Precision Deployable Optical Structures and Metrology


Scope Title:

Precision Optical Metering Structures and Instruments

Scope Description:

The need for continued innovation on optical systems and fabrication technologies as applied to ultraviolet to far-infrared telescopes should be encouraged by the participation of small businesses and others. New composite materials, advanced and nanotechnology manufacturing, and new optical techniques could provide the necessary advancements for the new challenging astrophysical missions. Future space astronomy missions from ultraviolet to millimeter wavelengths will push the state of the art in current optomechanical technologies. Size, dimensional stability, temperature, risk, manufacturability, and cost are important factors, separately and in combination. The Infrared/Optical/Ultraviolet (IR/O/UV) Space Telescope calls for deployed apertures as large as 15 m in diameter; and the Origins Space Telescope (OST), for operational temperatures as low as 4 K. Methods to construct large telescopes in space are also under development. Additionally, sunshields for thermal control and starshades for exoplanet imaging require deployment schemes to achieve 30- to 70-m-class space structures.

This subtopic addresses the need to mature technologies that can be used to fabricate 10- to 20-m-class, lightweight, ambient or cryogenic flight-qualified observatory systems and subsystems (telescopes, sunshields, starshades). Proposals to fabricate demonstration components and subsystems with direct scalability to flight systems through validated models will be given preference. The target launch volume and expected disturbances, along with the estimate of system performance, should be included in the discussion. Novel metrology solutions to establish and maintain optical alignment will also be accepted.


Technologies including, but not limited to, the following areas are of particular interest:

(1) Precision structures/materials:

  • Low coefficient of thermal expansion/coefficient of moisture expansion (CTE/CME) materials/structures to enable highly dimensionally stable optics, optical benches, and metering structures.
  • Materials/structures to enable deep-cryogenic (down to 4 K) operation.
  • Novel athermalization methods to join materials/structures with differing mechanical/thermal properties.
  • Lightweight materials/structures to enable high-mass-efficiency structures.
  • Precision joints/latches to enable submicron-level repeatability.
  • Mechanical connections providing microdynamic stability suitable for robotic assembly.

(2) Deployable technologies:

  • Precision deployable modules for assembly of optical telescopes (e.g., innovative active or passive deployable primary or secondary support structures).
  • Hybrid deployable/assembled architectures, packaging, and deployment designs for large sunshields and external occulters (20- to 50-m class).
  • Packaging techniques to enable more efficient deployable structures.

(3) Metrology:

  • Techniques to verify dimensional stability requirements at subnanometer-level precision (10 to 100 pm).
  • Techniques to monitor and maintain telescope optical alignment for on-ground and in-orbit operation.


A successful proposal shows a path toward a Phase II delivery of demonstration hardware scalable to 5 m in diameter for ground test characterization. Proposals should show an understanding of one or more relevant science needs and present a feasible plan to fully develop the relevant subsystem technologies and transition them into a future NASA program(s).

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 12 Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems, and Manufacturing
  • Level 2 12.2 Structures

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

For Phase I, a successful deliverable would include a demonstration of the functionality and/or performance of a system/subsystem with model predictions to explain observed behavior as well as make predictions of future designs.

For Phase II this should be demonstrated on units that can be scaled to future flight sizes.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

The James Webb Space Telescope represents the state of the art in large deployable telescopes. The Roman Space Telescope (RST) coronagraph instrument (CGI) will drive telescope/instrument stability requirements to new levels. The mission concepts in the upcoming Astro2020 decadal survey will push technological requirements even further in the areas of deployment, size, stability, lightweighting, and operational temperature. Each of these mission studies have identified technology gaps related to their respective mission requirements.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

These technologies are directly applicable to the RST CGI and the IR/O/UV Space Telescope mission concepts. Ultra-stable optomechanical systems are listed as a "critical" technology gap with an "urgent" priority in the LUVOIR STDT (Science and Technology Definition Team) Final Report for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey and are also highly applicable to the IR/O/UV Space Telescope proposed in the 2021 Decadal Survey "Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s."


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