Proposed fleet of optical telescopes to image habitable planets.
Courtesy: Karl Jacobs/The Aerospace Corporation


A two-year grant is supporting the further maturation of Solar Gravity Lens (SGL) technologies to send a fleet of optical telescopes to image habitable planets far beyond our solar system.

The SGL concept has received a $2 million grant by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, a mission led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with The Aerospace Corporation as the mission architect.

Viable roadmap

Previously, the SGL team received NIAC Phase I and II awards.

The first two phases demonstrated basic concept feasibility and invented a novel mission architecture using multiple low-cost spacecraft. This architecture permitted phased launches by multiple partners to observe exoplanets, which are planets that orbit around other stars.

Courtesy: Karl Jacobs/The Aerospace Corporation

The team also defined a viable roadmap toward building the required SGL mission capability, beginning with a technology demonstration mission in the 2023–24 time period – and leading to a full-scale SGL mission a decade later.

High-speed exit

The NIAC award pushed forward a proof-of-concept flight that would exit the solar system faster than any previous spacecraft, notes Tom Heinsheimer, Aerospace’s technical co-lead for SGL.

“Then we would fly swarms of cooperating smallsats to observe the images of exoplanets substantially magnified by the predictions of Einstein as how light behaves around massive objects,” Heinsheimer adds in an Aerospace Corporation statement.

Courtesy: Karl Jacobs/The Aerospace Corporation


Using techniques developed by the concept’s principal investigator, Slava Turyshev of JPL, this data would be converted into exoplanet images. “Our smallsat architecture can simultaneously explore many exoplanetary systems, bringing us closer to the discovery of distant life in the universe.”

Record-toting Voyager spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Outbound microchips

Henry Helvajian, senior scientist in Aerospace’s Physical Sciences Laboratories and technical co-lead of SGL said, “When the collection of exoplanet images is complete, hundreds of SGL spacecraft will sail outward toward the cosmos, carrying microchips that portray life on Earth…building on the legacy of the Voyager Golden Records launched on Voyager Spacecraft in 1977.”

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