The MOIRE design with a giant plastic membrane reflecting light and focusing it into the space telescope satellite. Credit. DARPA

There is a new space telescope on the drawing board, a giant telescope, it is called MOIRE.

It is however not directed towards the stars, but back on Earth. It will be able to see 40 percent of Earth at a single time and distinguish a dog from a distance of 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles).

The owner of that drawing board is the U.S agency DARPA, short for “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency”. The telescope named “MOIRE” is short for “Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation” and it would be the largest telescope ever built with a diameter of 20 meters (66 feet).

Size matters for space telescopes, the bigger in space, the better the resolution, the smaller objects will be distinguishable. But to allow this immense size, the MOIRE telescope would not be built as normal telescopes.

Instead, it will be constructed using plastics in favor of traditional glass mirrors. Using a very thin plastic membrane almost as clear as glass, but unlike glass, it is foldable and reflects light instead of focusing it as in a normal telescope.

Constructing it using plastic solves several problems associated with traditional glass space telescopes, especially when the idea is going big. As mentioned, plastic is foldable. The material is also very lightweight compared to glass. Both of which is causes of great constraints when sending rockets into space.

Being both lightweight and takes up little space, it greatly reduces the costs of getting it into orbit. The fact that it is foldable also do not restrict the size of the telescope relative to the size of the actual rockets getting it into space.

The MOIRE telescope will be able to monitor Earth in real time from its geostationary position, able to oversee more than 40 percent of the globe at a resolution of only a meter (3,2 feet). It will be able to deliver video recordings with one image per second and perhaps even more important, it will be a testing bed and the first in a line of even more giant telescopes to come in the future.