Space presents limitless possibilities for exploration, scientific inquiry, and commercial enterprise that push the boundaries of optical technology. Fantastic images of objects in space, including Earth, have inspired generations of optical scientists and engineers, and continue to do so as higher performance or new needs arise. Satellites and probes in space are equipped with imagers, sensors, measurement devices, and communication systems that are very often specialized, purpose-built optical equipment designed to survive the rigors of the environment. Similarly, Earth-based optical systems used in space missions or applications often have unique requirements, exemplified by adaptive optics in large-aperture telescopes and high-bandwidth optical communications links. This workshop examines emerging trends in the use of space, the consequences of growing interest from new-to-space users, and the resultant opportunities for the optical community.
Several trends are notably influencing the mindsets of scientists, engineers, planners, and decision makers in government, industry and academia. Trends that serve as topics for this workshop are:
- Optics supporting the renaissance in exploration of our solar system and beyond, including planets, moons, asteroids and the sun. An impetus also arises from proposed human missions to the Moon and Mars.
- Quantum and fundamental science experiments in space that today include ultra-cold atom physics (atom interferometry, BECs, etc), gravity wave sensing, quantum key distribution, and ultra-long distance entanglement.
- Optics for laboratories and factories in space.The International Space Station hosts a wide range of investigations, including in the life sciences, where optical methods and equipment used on Earth need to be adapted for use in space.Future space platforms will increase that need, including when the manufacturing of tangible goods in space factories becomes a reality, creating a new space economy.
- Smaller optical systems for microsatellites (cubesats) and probes using new/unconventional optical methods that result in performance competitive with conventional, larger systems.Interest in these small-form factor systems come everywhere from start-ups and entrepreneurs to the major defense contractors and governments.
- Optical communication systems in space-to-ground and space-to-space links to transmit high-resolution, low-latency imagery in space exploration and remote sensing, and to support data services not available through conventional terrestrial data networks.
- Optical methods that enable satellite formations and constellations in applications that include optical communications networks, synthetic aperture telescopes, metrology/geodesy, and various science missions.
- New-to-space users and investors attracted by science and commercial opportunities who need to know the design, qualification, and use of optical technology for their space applications.
- The commoditization of space technology and the use of COTS components to lower cost, particularly for shorter-duration missions that have reduced reliability requirements.