Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||2039 (proposed)|
|Reference system||Lagrange 2 point|
|Diameter||8 m and 15 m|
|Wavelengths||UV, visible and infrared|
Logo for the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) space observatory concept
The Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) is a multi-wavelength space observatory concept being developed by NASA under the leadership of a Science and Technology Definition Team drawn from the scientific and technical community.[clarification needed] LUVOIR is one of four large astrophysics space mission concepts being studied in preparation for the National Academy of Sciences 2020 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.
While LUVOIR is a concept for a general-purpose observatory, it has the key science goal of characterizing a wide range of exoplanets, including those that might be habitable. An additional goal is to enable a broad range of astrophysics, from the reionization epoch, through galaxy formation and evolution, to star and planet formation. Powerful imaging and spectroscopy observations of Solar System bodies would also be possible.
LUVOIR would be a Large Strategic Science Mission and will be considered for a development start sometime after 2020. The LUVOIR Team has produced designs for two variants of LUVOIR: one with a 15 m diameter telescope mirror (LUVOIR-A) and one with an 8 m diameter mirror (LUVOIR-B). LUVOIR can observe ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared wavelengths of light.
In 2016, NASA began considering four different space telescopes for the Large Strategic Science Missions (formerly Flagship Program) mission; they are the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR), Lynx X-ray Observatory, and Origins Space Telescope (OST). In 2019 the four teams will turn their final reports over to the National Academy of Sciences, whose independent Decadal Survey committee advises NASA on which mission should take top priority. If funded, LUVOIR would launch approximately in 2039, using a heavy launch vehicle and it would be placed at the Sun–Earth Lagrange 2 point.
The LUVOIR-A design features a 15 m diameter primary telescope mirror. For comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope mirror is 2.4 m in diameter and the James Webb Space Telescope mirror is 6.5 m in diameter. The observatory includes four bays for science instruments, as well as a spacecraft to provide housekeeping functions (communications, power, etc.). The spacecraft also houses a sunshade to prevent the Sun's light from striking the telescope. The LUVOIR-B design is similar, but with an 8 m diameter primary mirror and three instrument bays. LUVOIR-B was developed to demonstrate scalability of the basic LUVOIR design. Each telescope would launch on a single rocket and unfold in space (like the James Webb Space Telescope).
LUVOIR's main goals are to investigate exoplanets, cosmic origins, and the Solar System. LUVOIR would be able to analyze the structure and composition of exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces. It could also detect biosignatures arising from life in the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet. Atmospheric biosignatures of interest include CO
2, CO, molecular oxygen (O
2), ozone (O
3), water (H
2O), and methane (CH
4). LUVOIR's multi-wavelength capability would also provide key information to help understand how a host star's UV radiation regulates the atmospheric photochemistry on habitable planets. LUVOIR will also observe large numbers of exoplanets spanning a wide range of characteristics (mass, host star type, age, etc.), with the goal of placing the Solar System in a broader context of planetary systems.
The scope of astrophysics investigations that LUVOIR can do is vast, covering all the topics addressed with the Hubble Space Telescope and more. Experiments extremely difficult or impossible to execute with Hubble's 2.4 m diameter mirror become straightforward with LUVOIR. These investigations include explorations of cosmic structure in the far reaches of space and time, formation and evolution of galaxies, and the birth of stars and planetary systems.
In the area of Solar System studies, LUVOIR can provide up to about 25 km imaging resolution in visible light at Jupiter, permitting detailed monitoring of atmospheric dynamics in Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune over long timescales. Sensitive, high resolution imaging and spectroscopy of Solar System comets, asteroids, moons, and Kuiper Belt objects that will not be visited by spacecraft in the foreseeable future can provide vital information on the processes that formed the Solar System ages ago. Furthermore, LUVOIR has an important role to play by studying geysers from the ocean moons of the outer Solar System, in particular Europa and Enceladus, over long timescales.
Current design characteristics
LUVOIR would be equipped with an internal coronagraph instrument (called ECLIPS) to enable direct observations of Earth-like exoplanets. An external starshade is also an option for the smaller LUVOIR design (LUVOIR-B). Other candidate science instruments studied are: High-Definition Imager, a wide-field near-UV, optical, and near-infrared camera; LUMOS, an ultraviolet multi-object spectrograph; and POLLUX, an ultraviolet spectropolarimeter. POLLUX is being studied by a European consortium, with leadership and support from the French Space Agency. The observatory can observe wavelengths of light from the far-ultraviolet (100 nm) to the near-infrared (2500 nm).
To enable the extreme wavefront stability needed for coronagraphic observations of Earth-like exoplanets, the LUVOIR design incorporates three principles. First, vibrations and mechanical disturbances throughout the observatory are minimized. Second, the telescope and coronagraph both incorporate several layers of wavefront control through active optics. Third, the telescope is actively heated to a precise 270 K to control thermal disturbances.
LUVOIR-A was designed for a single launch on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) Block 2 rocket. LUVOIR-B was designed to launch on a heavy-lift rocket with an industry-standard 5 m diameter launch fairing. Options for launch of LUVOIR-B may include NASA's SLS Block 1 rocket, Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket and SpaceX's Starship.
- Foust, Jeff (Jan 21, 2019). "Selecting the next great space observatory".
- "Official NASA website for LUVOIR".
- Scoles, Sarah (30 March 2016). "NASA Considers Its Next Flagship Space Telescope". Scientific American. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
- Getting to Orbit: Launch Vehicles - LUVOIR Tech Note Series. Norman Rioux, 5 August 2016. Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA.
- Trager, Rebecca (March 7, 2018). "Searching for the chemistry of life on exoplanets".
- "NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Technology Overview".
- Goddard Space Flight Center [@NASAGoddard] (11 April 2019). "We asked and @SpaceX checked. The #LUVOIR space telescope concept can indeed fly on Starship!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), an earlier concept for a LUVOIR-like space telescope
- High-Definition Space Telescope (HDST), another LUVOIR-like observatory concept
- The Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) aka Hubble 2.0 Summary of interview with Brad Peterson & NASA video