A satellite antenna for a new telescope aimed at observing distant galaxies is expected to be launched into space on March 4, 2018, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
The antenna, called the Advanced Optical Space Telescope (AOSAT), is being built by a consortium of firms including Lockheed Martin, and is being flown to a space launch site in the Netherlands by a European rocket on a European Atlas V rocket.ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), the organisation responsible for the project, said in a statement on Wednesday that the AOSAT satellite was in “a safe and secure configuration.”
The European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) has been working with Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences since the beginning of the project.
It said it was working with an American company, Spacecraft Technologies Corp., to supply the satellite’s solar arrays.
The AOSOT has the potential to provide the most powerful and detailed images of the universe ever obtained, ESOC said.
The telescope is designed to observe distant galaxies from thousands of kilometres away, which would allow astronomers to peer into the very early Universe and look for signs of life on the early Earth.
Its primary mirror will be about 100 metres (328 feet) wide and its secondary mirror, the coronagraph, about 200 metres (492 feet) across.
The telescope’s main mirror will contain one of three mirrors, each containing two sets of two identical lenses, to capture a spectrum of light that can be used to analyse the cosmic microwave background, a radiation emitted by distant objects, as well as to look for evidence of life.
The consortium said the telescope would be capable of “detecting hundreds of thousands of galaxies, the first in history,” and could “see distant galaxies that are thousands of light years away.”
The telescope’s design will be developed in a partnership between the European Organisation for Astronomy (EOAS), which manages the project for the ESA, and the French space agency CNES.
The project was first announced by Lockheed Martin in March, but was delayed after the death of Lockheed Martin’s chief executive, retired Brigadier General Robert Gates, in September 2018.
The group said it would start developing the telescope in the second half of 2019.
The Telescope is expected launch in 2024 or 2025, after which it will be retired from ESA and put to private ownership.