Stretched membrane with electrostatic curvature (SMEC) mirrors: A new technology for large lightweight space telescopes

Simona Errico, Roger Angel, Brian Stamper, James Burge, Tom Connors

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Exploration of faint distant objects in space has been limited by the power of telescopes. Currently our only option for studying these remote objects is to build larger and better telescopes. These giant telescopes are often constrained by system mass, which is dominated by the primary mirror. It appears that the evolutionary path of using conventional technology to build giant mirrors will not be sufficient to meet the small areal density of approximately 1.5 kg/m2. Therefore the development of large primary mirrors for space is dependent on innovative approaches and new technology. One approach to building a large primary reflector is to use smaller individual segments and place them along a curve approximating a paraboloid. These smaller segments could be comprised of either flat or curved thin membrane mirrors. These thin membrane mirrors have the potential of meeting the small areal density requirement. We have started development on a thin membrane mirror. We have built and are testing a 6 inch stretched membrane mirror prototype that uses electrostatic pressure to pull the nominally flat mirror to a 32 m radius of curvature and adaptively correct for aberrations. Preliminary test results of the flat membrane are promising. The surface error for the flat membrane was measured to better than λ/10 rms for the center four inches and λ/20 rms over the central three inches. The interferograms for the curved membrane show a residual figure-eight pattern of high order astigmatism, most likely due to tension anisotropy in the mirror. Analysis on the fully curved mirror is still on-going. This paper discusses the SMEC design, development, test results, and current on-going activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-364
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
StatePublished - 2002
EventHighly Innovative Space Telescope Concepts - Waikoloa, HI, United States
Duration: Aug 22 2002Aug 23 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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