A thousand earths: A very large aperture, ultralight space telescope array for atmospheric biosignature surveys

Dániel Apai, Tom D. Milster, Dae Wook Kim, Alex Bixel, Glenn Schneider, Ronguang Liang, Jonathan Arenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An outstanding, multi-disciplinary goal of modern science is the study of the diversity of potentially Earth-like planets and the search for life in them. This goal requires a bold new generation of space telescopes, but even the most ambitious designs yet hope to characterize several dozen potentially habitable planets. Such a sample may be too small to truly understand the complexity of exo-earths. We describe here a notional concept for a novel space observatory designed to characterize 1,000 transiting exo-earth candidates. The Nautilus concept is based on an array of inflatable spacecraft carrying very large diameter (8.5m), very low-weight, multi-order diffractive optical elements (MODE lenses) as light-collecting elements. The mirrors typical to current space telescopes are replaced by MODE lenses with a 10 times lighter areal density that are 100 times less sensitive to misalignments, enabling light-weight structure. MODE lenses can be cost-effectively replicated through molding. The Nautilus mission concept has a potential to greatly reduce fabrication and launch costs, and mission risks compared to the current space telescope paradigm through replicated components and identical, light-weight unit telescopes. Nautilus is designed to survey transiting exo-earths for biosignatures up to a distance of 300 pc, enabling a rigorous statistical exploration of the frequency and properties of life-bearing planets and the diversity of exo-earths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jun 12 2019


  • Astrobiology
  • Instrumentation: miscellaneous
  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Planets and satellites: terrestrial planets
  • Telescopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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