Artist’s concept of the prototype starshade, a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets. Credit: NASA/JPL
By Matt Williams
The field of exoplanet study has come a long way in recent decades. To date, 5,063 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,794 systems beyond our own, with another 8,819 candidates awaiting confirmation. In the coming years, tens of thousands of more planets are expected to be found, thanks to next-generation observatories. The ultimate goal in this search is to find planets that are “Earth-like,” meaning they have a good chance of supporting life. This is no easy task, as rocky planets located within their parent star’s habitable zones (HZs) tend to orbit closely, making them harder to see.
To make this process easier, NASA is designing a hybrid observatory consisting of a “Starshade” that will block out a star’s light so that a ground-based telescope can directly image planets orbiting it. The concept is known as the Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE), and NASA is looking for public input to make it a reality. To that end, they have launched the Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge, where participants are asked to develop a design for a lightweight starshade structure that could be used as part of the HOEE concept.
The challenge is being hosted by GrabCAD, a Massachusetts-based startup that hosts a free cloud-based platform that helps engineering teams collaborate and manage, view, and share Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files. The NASA Tournament Lab is managing the challenge, which supports the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study of the HOEE concept. The challenge is part of NASA’s Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program, overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).
Continue reading… “NASA wants your help designing a starshade to observe exoplanets”