We propose to develop paraboloid mirrors to be made in space. The mirrors would be based on solidifying liquid precursor materials into a paraboloid shape. The paraboloid mirrors would be made in space by spinning the mirror support structure or the entire satellite simultaneously in two orthogonal axes while releasing the liquid precursor into it. Spinning around the first axis generates an artificial gravity, while spinning around the second axis generates a paraboloid surface in the liquid mirror precursor. The precursor is subsequently allowed to solidify thus preserving its paraboloid surface and forming a mirror.
The currently proposed precursor material is a photopolymer which is cross-linked by exposure to an on-board UV source. Alternatively, the precursor materials can be two-part epoxies, metals (K, Na, In), their alloys and thermosetting and thermoforming polymers.
The proposed system also includes a thermo coating system which would deposit a reflective coating onto a formed mirror surface in case the mirror is fabricated of a weakly reflecting precursor.
Additionally, the mirror support structures are proposed to be made of shape-memory materials which would offer high packaging density for launch and which would unfold upon application of heat. Utilizing such structures avoids dedicated actuators and greatly reduces complexity, weight and packaged volume of the system.
There are no fundamental limits to the size of space-made mirrors, since they are fabricated in zero- or microgravity.
The mirrors can be repaired in space by re-deposition of the precursor (or re-melting in case of metals), re-spinning them and solidifying the precursor.
The proposed mirrors would enable new techniques of constructing large- and very large aperture telescopes in space, opening up new opportunities for terrestrial and space exploration.
With relatively few mirror generation steps, this technology would favorably compete with present multi-segment large mirror assemblies, in terms of cost, complexity and reliability, while offering potentially much larger apertures.
In addition, the proposed mirrors can be re-worked while in space, thus extending the useful lifetime of space telescopes.
The proposed technology would enable large aperture space telescopes to be launched with relatively small vehicles, while avoiding complicated assembly in space. The cost of the resulting mirrors is expected to be orders-of-magnitude lower than present ones.
As a result, the cost of high resolution space and terrestrial surveying, cartography and surveillance will be reduced by orders-of-magnitude.