Origins Space Telescope

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Origins Space Telescope
Mission typeExoplanetology
Start of mission
Launch date2035 (proposed)
Orbital parameters
Reference systemLagrange 2 point
WavelengthsFar infrared

Origins Space Telescope (OST) is a concept study for a Far-Infrared Surveyor space telescope mission.[1] Still a preliminary concept in formulation, it will be presented to the United States Decadal Survey in 2019 for a possible selection to NASA's Flagship Program. The OST would provide an array of new tools for studying star formation and the energetics and physical state of the interstellar medium within the Milky Way using infrared radiation and new spectroscopic capabilities.

Study groups, primarily composed of international community members, will prioritize the science identification and science drivers of the mission architecture.[2][3][2] The study groups draw upon input from the international astronomical community; such a large mission will need international participation and support to make it a reality.[4]


In 2016, NASA began considering four different space telescopes for the Flagship program;[5] they are the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR), Origins Space Telescope (OST), and Lynx X-ray Surveyor. In 2019 the four teams turned in their final reports to the National Academy of Sciences, whose independent Planetary Science Decadal Survey committee advises NASA on which mission should take top priority. If funded, OST would launch in approximately 2035.[5]

An evolving concept[edit]

Diagram of the envisioned lens diameter of the Origins Space Telescope (OST)[6]

The Roadmap envisaged a mid- to far-infrared space telescope (contrasting with the near- to mid-infrared James Webb Space Telescope) with a large gain in sensitivity over the Herschel Space Observatory (a previous far-infrared telescope), better angular resolution with at least a four-order of magnitude sensitivity improvement over Herschel.[2] The mission development relies on the identification of primary science drivers to establish the technical requirements for the observatory. The workgroups have identified these baseline science topics:

Water transport[edit]

Early and preliminary goals for the Origins Space Telescope mission include the study of water transport as both ice and gas from the interstellar medium to the inner regions of planet-forming disks, from interstellar clouds, to protoplanetary disks, to Earth itself—in order to understand the abundance and availability of water for habitable planets.[7] In the Solar System, it will chart the role of comets in delivering water to the early Earth by tracing their molecular heredity of deuterium/hydrogen ratio.[7]

Preliminary characteristics[edit]

The Origins Space Telescope would perform astrometry and astrophysics in the mid- to far-infrared range using a telescope with an aperture of 9.1 m (concept 1) or 5.9 m (concept 2).[7][8] The telescope will require cryocooler systems to actively cool detectors at ∼50 mK and the telescope optics at ∼4 K.[7] It will attain sensitivities 100–1000 times greater than any previous far-infrared telescope.[7]

Targeting exoplanet observations in the 6–40 μm wavelength range, it will measure the temperatures and search for basic chemical ingredients for life in the atmospheres of small, warm planets at habitable temperatures (∼300 K (27 °C)) and measure their atmospheric composition. This may be accomplished by a combination of transit spectroscopy and direct coronagraphic imaging. Important atmospheric diagnostics include spectral bands of ammonia (NH
, a unique tracer of nitrogen), the 9 μm ozone line (ozone, O
is a key biosignature), the 15 μm CO
band (carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas), and many water wavelength bands.[7]

Its spectrographs will enable 3D surveys of the sky that will discover and characterize the most distant galaxies, Milky-Way, exoplanets, and the outer reaches of the Solar System.[8]

Preliminary payload[edit]

Based on the preliminary goals, five instruments are required: [7][1]

  1. a far-infrared imaging polarimeter
  2. a mid-infrared instrument with imaging
  3. low-resolution spectroscopy and coronagraphy
  4. a wide-field low-resolution spectrometer
  5. a high-resolution far-infrared photon detection spectrometer and a high-resolution heterodyne spectrometer.


  1. ^ a b Preparing for the 2020 Decadal Survey Large Mission Concepts. (PDF) Paul Hertz, NASA.
  2. ^ a b c The Far-Infrared Surveyor Mission Study: Paper I, the Genesis (PDF) 29 July 2016. Proceedings, Volume 9904, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave; 99040K (2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2240456
  3. ^ Far-IR Surveyor.
  4. ^ Far IR Surveyor Workshop. Caltech's Beckman Institute. June 2015.
  5. ^ a b Scoles, Sarah (30 March 2016). "NASA Considers Its Next Flagship Space Telescope". Scientific American. Retrieved 2017-10-15.
  6. ^ Origins Space Telescope Mission Flyer. Goddard Space Flight Center. 10 February 2017
  7. ^ a b c d e f g The Origins Space Telescope Mission Study. Margaret Meixner, Asantha Cooray, and the Origins Space Telescope Science and Technology Definition Team. Space Telescope Science Institute
  8. ^ a b Origins Space Telescope. Cooray, Asantha R. and the Origins Space Telescope Study Team. American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #229. January 2017.