China aims to launch its super space telescope dubbed Xuntian (meaning "survey to heavens") in 2023. Xuntian will be able to observe up to 40 percent of the sky with a 2.5-billion-pixel camera within a decade.
According to China’s manned space program, the country’s first large space telescope will begin scientific operations around 2024.
Dubbed Xuntian (meaning “survey to heavens” in English), or Chinese Survey Space Telescope (CSST), it is an optical observatory for conducting sky surveys and capturing images of the sky.
Initially, it will be on a mission for ten years, but it could potentially be extended, Chinese scientists have revealed.
The Xuntian Space Telescope is expected to be launched by the end of 2023. The observatory has a two-meter aperture and state-of-the-art detectors, just like the optical cabin of the China Space Station, whose construction should be completed before the end of 2022. It is a bus-sized facility, weighing more than 10 tonnes, with a length equal to that of a three-story building.
Developing prototype sample of Xuntian
A prototype sample of Xuntian is being developed by the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), progress has already been made in the preliminary development of the device.
Zhan Hu, the principal scientist of the Xuntian optical facility and researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the CAS, told China Media Group (CMG) that the Xuntian telescope is basically two parts: an optical facility and a platform.
A five-part Xuntian Space Telescope comprises the Xuntian module, the terahertz module, the multichannel imager, the integral field spectrograph, and the coronagraph for imaging extrasolar planets. Most of the observation will be carried out by the Xuntian module, a wide-field camera.
In an interview with CMG, Xu Shuyan, chief designer of the Xuntian optical facility and scientist with the National Astronomical Observatories of the CAS, stated that the entire Xuntian has been developed, including all subsystems, components, and units. The team is preparing for Xuntian’s future launch in the near future.
The Xuntian Space Telescope will be launched into space once the China Space Station has been completed.
Normal observations will take place with the Xuntian flying independently in the same orbit as the space station but at a considerable distance.
Investigating the mysteries of the universe
With a field of view 300 times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Xuntian space telescope retains a similar resolution.
Zhan Hu said the Xuntian, or CSST, will be the largest space telescope for astronomy in the near ultraviolet and visible regions before 2035.
A CSST Scientific Data Reduction System project scientist described Xuntian’s capabilities through the analogy of photographing a sheep flock.
“Hubble may see a sheep, but the CSST sees thousands, all at the same resolution.”
Over the next ten years, the Xuntian will be able to observe up to 40 percent of the sky with a 2.5-billion-pixel camera. Furthermore, it will periodically dock with the crewed outpost and orbit Earth with the China Space Station.
A space optical observatory such as Xuntian is also designed to investigate dark matter, dark energy, the cosmos, and the formation and evolution of galaxies.
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