Not everything in astronomical observation revolves around the James Webb. Although the $10 billion telescope has already begun to amaze us with its first images, experts have and are even planning other space observatories to expand their knowledge of the cosmos.
There is the ancient Hubble, which despite its age continues to leave us with the occasional surprise. And in no time so will the Xuntianor Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST), the instrument with which the Asian Giant wants to hit the table in the field of observation and shed new light on the investigation of the dark matter and energy or the study of exoplanets.
The project has been known for some time, but China has just outlined a calendar that points to the short term. If the schedule outlined by the state network CGTN is met, Xuntian will be launched in about a year and a half, end of 2023to start your operations “by 2024” with the support of a Chinese Space Station that will already be ready to take advantage of it.
Those are at least the calculations handled by the authorities in Beijing, which already in May they shared their “hope” that the CSST telescope could start operations in 2024.
Independent… but not so much
Xuntian’s characteristics differ from Webb’s. For starters, it won’t be that far from Earth. Unlike the telescope of NASA, ESA and CSA, which is located at 1.5 million kilometers, the one of the Chinese program will orbit close to its space station. The choice is not casual. This proximity will allow it to be attached to the terminal when necessary and will also facilitate its maintenance.
The original idea of the Chinese authorities was to mount the CSST in the station itself, but after assessing disadvantages such as vibration, the risk of contamination or even that the platform itself could interfere with vision, the experts ended up ruling it out. His solution: to orbit independently, at a certain distance from the terminal, and to attach when needed.
Xuntian, “survey to heavens”, is a space-based optical observatory for astronomers to carry out sky surveys, capturing a general map or images of the sky. /CGTN pic.twitter.com/Dc7e58oBvx
— Chinese Embassy in Switzerland (@ChinaEmbinCH) July 19, 2022
There, at the station, the technicians can, among other tasks, take care of its maintenance, a great advantage over the James Webb. It is estimated that the useful life of Xuntian will be around 10 years, although CGTN already suggests that if nothing goes wrong, that horizon could be lengthened.
The CSST will weigh more than 10 tons and it will have, according to the Chinese state media, a length equivalent to a three-story building. Its opening will reach two meters, somewhat less than that of Hubble, but with a considerably higher field of view: China assures what will it be about 300 times greater than Hubble’s. It will also incorporate a 2.5 billion pixel camera.
“Hubble can see a sheep; but the CSST sees thousands. All with the same resolution.” underlines CGTN Li Ran, one of the scientists in charge of the new telescope’s Scientific Data Reduction System: “We know that our universe is expanding with an acceleration and we can calculate its current expansion rate, but what causes the acceleration is still unknown. CSST observations may provide answers and reveal new physics.”
Cover Image | Wikipedia