The roots of adaptive optics technology is in the field of astronomy, where it was introduced in the 1950s as a concept for improving astronomical imaging by correcting for atmospheric aberration. Today, ground-based telescopes around the world are equipped with adaptive optic telescope mirrors, successfully and reliably generating high-resolution images of their targets despite the earth’s atmosphere, and even rivaling the image clarity of their space-based telescope mirror counterparts. Adaptive optics’ widespread adoption can be attributed to its inclusion of precision optics, sophisticated wavefront sensors, and more recently, MEMS deformable mirrors, which have resulted in 2-3X gains in resolution. BMC deformable mirrors, high resolution by design, are currently integral components in major astronomy research projects around the world. Two such notable projects are described below.
The NASA-sponsored space exploration project, PICTURE (Planet Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Rocket Experiment), seeks to obtain a direct image of an extra-solar giant planet. The PICTURE telescope, which uses a BMC deformable mirror for adaptive optic wavefront control, was launched aboard a NASA sounding rocket in October, 2011. Preliminary data show that the MEMS deformable mirror was successful in its operation. More news will be available soon as data analysis is carried out. This was the first-ever use of a MEMS deformable mirror in space.
Sounding Rocket (Credit: NASA)
Charged with the mission to directly detect Jupiter-like planets outside of our solar system, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) will use cutting edge BMC deformable mirror technology to clarify planet images obscured by light from parent stars, atmospheric aberrations, and optical imperfections in the imaging systems. This will be the first time such high contrast ratios (107-108) required for "Extreme Adaptive Optics" are attained. Led by Lawrence Livermore National Labs, the GPI project is a collaboration seeking to produce a powerful new instrument to augment the ground-based Gemini Telescope, which will also use a BMC deformable mirror for wavefront control. The GPI and Gemini Telescope are expected to enable the search for extra-solar planets by providing near-infrared, adaptive optics-corrected, coronagraphic high-contrast imaging.