Astronomy & Telescopes

A Thousand Earths: A Very Large Aperture, Ultralight Space Telescope Array for Atmospheric Biosignature Surveys

By Keith Cowing
June 12, 2019
Filed under
A Thousand Earths: A Very Large Aperture, Ultralight Space Telescope Array for Atmospheric Biosignature Surveys
Nautilus array
Nautilus array

An outstanding, multi-disciplinary goal of modern science is the study of the diversity of potentially Earth-like planets and the search for life in them.

This goal requires a bold new generation of space telescopes, but even the most ambitious designs yet hope to characterize several dozen potentially habitable planets. Such a sample may be too small to truly understand the complexity of exo-earths. We describe here a notional concept for a novel space observatory designed to characterize 1,000 transiting exo-earth candidates.

The Nautilus concept is based on an array of inflatable spacecraft carrying very large diameter (8.5m), very low-weight, multi-order diffractive optical elements (MODE lenses) as light-collecting elements. The mirrors typical to current space telescopes are replaced by MODE lenses with a 10 times lighter areal density that are 100 times less sensitive to misalignments, enabling light-weight structure.

MODE lenses can be cost-effectively replicated through molding. The Nautilus mission concept has a potential to greatly reduce fabrication and launch costs, and mission risks compared to the current space telescope paradigm through replicated components and identical, light-weight unit telescopes. Nautilus is designed to survey transiting exo-earths for biosignatures up to a distance of 300 pc, enabling a rigorous statistical exploration of the frequency and properties of life-bearing planets and the diversity of exo-earths.

Comments: Accepted in the Astronomical Journal. 28 pages, 12 figures. More info on the project website: href=””>

Daniel Apai, Tom D. Milster, Dae Wook Kim, Alex Bixel, Glenn Schneider, Ronguang Liang (University of Arizona), Jonathan Arenberg (Northrop-Grumman Aerospace Systems)
(Submitted on 12 Jun 2019)

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1906.05079 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:1906.05079v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Daniel Apai Dr
[v1] Wed, 12 Jun 2019 12:17:27 UTC (12,973 KB)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻