Ian Parry's Personal Page


Professor of Astronomical Optics
University of Cambridge
Institute of Astronomy

Unfolding Space Telescopes for Astronomy and Earth Observations
I am the Principal Investigator (PI) for a research program to develop unfolding, self-aligning space telescopes.
    The power of space telescopes for astronomy has long been recognised.  The Earth's atmosphere blurs the images, blocks out many wavelengths and adds a bright background glow. This is why space telescopes are much more powerful than ground-based telescopes . Yet in the mainstream wavelength range of 0.3 to 5.0 microns there has only been one general purpose space observatory (the Hubble Space Telescope) and a handful of specialised, smaller telescopes. Furthermore, in the next 15 years there will only be two general purpose successors to Hubble - the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. A major reason for this is the cost of putting a large telescope in space.

    I am working on techniques to reduce costs by making telescopes small and light-weight in their launch configuration but large (and therefore powerful) once in orbit. This will make 2 - 4m class telescopes far more affordable and enable huge telescopes in the 10 - 30m class to be possible.

    For Earth Observation (EO) there are already hundreds of telescopes in orbit looking down at the ground, although most of these are relatively small. For EO, unfolding telescopes offer significant cost reductions enabling affordable high definition imaging and on-demand imaging. An important application for EO is to help tackle climate change. 28% of total global CO2 emissions come from energy use associated with heating or cooling buildings. Thermal infra-red (TIR) telescopes can be used to identify bad practice and drive remedial action.This will ensure that carbon emission commitments are adhered to and net-zero emissions are ultimately achieved. I am working with University colleagues in Cambridge-Zero on how satellite data can actually be used to do this.

    The idea of unfolding space telescopes is not new and there are significant technical challenges. Firstly, we need an innovative and reliable unfolding scheme. Secondly, we need to put the deployed optics in to precise alignment and then continuously maintain that alignment. These require a very precise metrology system, a set of high accuracy actuators and a sophisticated control system.

    My research program started in 2017 and has so far received ~£1.7 million in grant funding, mostly from STFC and UKSA. The main project stages are:

    • Lab prototypes to demonstrate the deployment, metrology and control systems.
    • Build and test a flight-ready unfolding CubeSat compatible space telescope.
    • Launch and operate a CubeSat in-orbit technology demonstrator.
My collaborators at the Institute of Astronomy are George Hawker and Marco Gomez-Jenkins.



           Last updated on Oct 21st 2021.