China is preparing a major project that will not only advance the country’s astronomical research agenda, but also enhance the use of the country’s space station complex.
And there are bragging rights attached to the star-studded Chinese project.
The spacecraft is called Xuntian, otherwise known as the China Space Survey Telescope or China Space Station Telescope (CSST). The name “Xuntian” can be literally translated as “clearing the sky” or “clearing the sky”.
Scheduled for launch next year, the bus-sized CSST has a primary mirror with a diameter of 2 meters (6.6 feet). This ultraviolet and optical space telescope is scheduled to orbit with the country’s Tiangong Space Station. The observatory’s nominal mission is 10 years, but the observatory’s space duties could be extended.
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Xuntian is designed to outperform NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. This large orbital facility is scheduled to orbit near the Chinese space station where it can be repaired from time to time by Chinese astronauts.
Lin Shiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, said the orbiting Shuntian Observatory is expected to make breakthroughs in cosmology, dark matter and dark energy, the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies, star formation and evolution and exoplanets. .
That’s a tall order.
Lin said the high-resolution telescope will take deep survey observations with an area of 17,500 square degrees, as well as make precise observations of various types of celestial bodies. Xuntian is equipped with a camera with a resolution of 2.5 billion pixels.
Field of view
Expected to be launched into Earth orbit next year aboard a Long March 5B rocket, Xuntian could obtain high-definition panoramic views of the universe that have roughly the same spatial resolution as the Hubble Space Telescope. However, China’s orbital eye has a field of view 300 times larger than Hubble’s. The field of view is the area of sky that a telescope can see at one time.
In an interview last year with China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, CSST’s Scientific Data Reduction System project scientist Li Ran used the analogy of photographing a flock of sheep to point out CSST’s capabilities.
“Hubble may be able to see a sheep, but CSST sees thousands, all with the same resolution,” Lee said.
Moreover, this superband will remain in the same orbit as the space station for long-term independent flights and observations. It is designed to temporarily dock with the space station for operational supply, maintenance and upgrades by Tiangong astronauts, Lin said.
In an interview with China Central Television (CCTV), Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program, also praised Shuntian’s planned capabilities and contributions.
“The Xuntian Telescope has been the most important scientific project since the launch of our country’s space station program. It is a scientific facility that has been eagerly anticipated by the Chinese astronomical community, and a scientific facility that represents state-level high technology in astronomy,” Zhu said.
Zhou added that the telescope is also the most advanced in terms of its ability to produce images in the ultraviolet spectrum among all ongoing telescope research projects in the world. “It is expected to greatly promote the development of astronomy, push our country’s astronomy research to an internationally leading level and help Chinese astronomers become a leading force in this field.”
According to Li Chengyuan of the College of Physics and Astronomy at Sun Yat-sen University of China, the Chinese space station telescope and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are sensitive to a similar time interval in wavelength.
But Xuntian covers a field of view about 5 to 8 times wider than Hubble’s, as Lee confirmed last year in the journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The “first generation” Xuntian space telescope consists of five observing instruments, including the Xuntian module, terahertz module, multi-channel imager, integrated field spectrometer, and exoplanet imager.
The Xuntian unit, a camera with a wide field of view, will take a significant amount of time to observe.
Testing and assembly
During normal observations, the space telescope will fly independently in the same orbit as the Chinese space station, but at a far distance.
“We are still developing the prototype sample. Currently, we have completed the development of all subsystems, components and modules, and are preparing for testing after they are assembled,” said Xu Shuyan, chief designer at Xuntian Optical Facility. A researcher from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“After that, we will start developing the telescope sample, and start searching for flying parts. Then we will conduct joint testing with the Xuntian platform and testing at the launch base, before launching,” Xu said. closed circuit television.
World class center
In the big-picture world of pushing the boundaries of space astronomy, you need look no further than the accomplishments of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. STScI is a multi-mission science operations center for NASA’s major observatories and a world-class astronomical research center.
STScI is the home base for impressive science programs with the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, and will be the science operations center for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope that will be launched in the mid-2020s.
The institute is located on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and is managed by NASA’s Association of Universities for Astronomy Research.
While Chinese space agency leaders are already boasting about Shuntian’s capabilities, some researchers have their doubts.
“For facilities open to the international scientific community, like Hubble or WEB, we provide important documentation and software so that researchers can plan outstanding science programs,” said Tom Brown, astronomer and head of the Hubble Mission Office at STScI.
“By contrast, little is known publicly about the specific capabilities of the Chinese space station telescope, so it is difficult to judge how it will enable similar investigations,” Brown told Space.com.
From what little is known, Brown said it appears that the Chinese space station telescope will have a larger field of view than Hubble’s, but a smaller mirror, with a smaller collecting area and lower spatial resolution.
The spectral resolution appears to be much lower than that available on Hubble, and the CSST does not extend into the far ultraviolet, below 200 nanometers.
“There are a lot of open questions at this point,” Brown said, including whether the space telescope can be launched successfully, whether it can be maintained in the space station environment, and how observing time will be reviewed and awarded. The data will be normalized.
“Hubble continues to lead the field in all the ways it measures the value of a world-class research facility and pursues pioneering projects in all areas of astrophysics,” Brown said. “I’m curious to see how the story of the Chinese space station telescope unfolds.”
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