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Optimised radiative cooling of infrared space telescopes and applications to possible missions

Abstract

General principles are outlined for the design of space infrared telescopes intended to cool by radiation to the lowest temperatures attainable without the use of on-board cryogens, and assuming on-orbit cooling after a warm launch. Maximum protection from solar and earth heating, maximum radiating area and efficiency and minimum absorbing area and absorptivity are the obvious basic criteria. The optimised design is a short, fat telescope surrounded by a series of radiation shields, each cooled by its own radiator. Maximising the longitudinal conductivity of the radiation shields and of the telescope tube itself is important both to the on-orbit cooling time and the final achieveable temperature. Realistic designs take between 80 and 200 days to cool to within a few degrees of equilibrium temperatures, depending on the materials used. Great advantages accrue from the use of an orbit distant from earth. Both simple models and detailed simulations suggest that temperatures of 30 to 40 K are attainable in high earth orbits. Placing a radiatively cooled telescope in a halo orbit around the Lagrangian point L2 is a particularly attractive option and significantly lower temperatures can be achieved there than in Earth orbit. Optimised radiative cooling is an important element of the small Japanese mission SMIRT. We suggest that a combination of an ESA Medium-sized Mission with a NASA Explorer to send a 2m+ telescope to an L2 halo orbit would provide a cost-effective and powerful long-duration facility for the early 21st century.

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Hawarden, T.G., Cummings, R.O., Telesco, C.M. et al. Optimised radiative cooling of infrared space telescopes and applications to possible missions. Space Sci Rev 61, 113–144 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00212480

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Keywords

  • Radiative Cool
  • Earth Orbit
  • Lagrangian Point
  • Halo Orbit
  • Radiation Shield