Stretched membrane with electrostatic curvature (SMEC): a new technology for ultralightweight space telescopes
Very large space telescopes with primary mirrors made of flat segments have been recently proposed. The segments would be extremely lightweight, made like pellicles from stretched, reflective membranes. Here we consider the use of such membrane primary mirrors in which slight concave curvature is induced by electrostatic force, by application of a potential difference between the membrane and a control electrode behind. In this way segmented spherical or paraboloidal primaries of long focal length can be made directly, eliminating the correction optics needed when flat segments are used. The electric potential would be spatially and temporally controlled to obtain uniform curvature despite non-uniformity in membrane tension, to create slight asphericity if needed and to provide active damping of vibrations. We report the operation of a small prototype telescope with a SEMC primary.