NASA plans to launch StarShade spacecraft to image new Earths

The spacecraft will be launched as a single unit. Once in space, it will split into two units – The StarShade and the telescope.

The startshade opens up into a shape of a flower. StarShade will blocks the light from bright stars and help the telescope to find and image distant exoplanets. Starshade is analogous to holding your hand up to the sun to block it while taking a picture of somebody. NASA’s research concluded that the flower shape is the optimum shape for a star occulator. The shape of the petals, when seen from far away, creates a softer edge that causes less bending of light waves. NASA tested various shapes using big pin-hole cameras.

Last week, NASA was granted a patent for this technology. The patent discloses various features of the StarShade.

Patent Information
Publication number: US 9,396,294
Patent Title: Method of modeling and simulation of shaped external occulters
Publication date: Jul 19, 2016
Filing date: Sep 27, 2013
Inventors: Richard G. Lyon; Mark Clampin; Peter Petrone, III;
Original Assignee: The United States of America, as represented by the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration