Challenges with seeing distant objects through telescopes
Countless wishes have been made on a twinkling star.
Ironically, that twinkle is one thing that gets in the way of seeing a clear image of the star through a telescope.
Light from stars is refracted through our atmosphere in different directions which causes the star’s image to change slightly in brightness and position. Even with a powerful telescope, factors like these make the stars difficult to see clearly. Enter adaptive optics in astronomy.
We can help you see far away objects more clearly
Our micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) deformable mirrors help telescopes compensate for atmospheric effects and correct for minor misalignments in instruments.
MEMS deformable mirrors have pistons underneath the surface that can move to change the mirror surface, effectively controlling the shape of the light reflected from it.
With the help of NASA SBIR programs and through internal development activities, BMC has developed new types of deformable mirrors and improved the cost of manufacturing deformable mirror hardware for adaptive optics in astronomy
Boston Micromachines’ deformable mirrors are now being used in space telescopes and observatories around the world. These observatories are exploring the universe by imaging astronomical phenomena at resolutions previously unattainable due to the use of adaptive optics in astronomy.
How Adaptive Optics Improves Astronomy
The Space Coronagraph Optical Bench (SCoOB)
The University of Arizona is developing a new testbed for high-contrast imaging in a thermal vacuum chamber (TVAC) i.e., in space. When completed, the testbed will combine a vector vortex coronagraph (VVC) with a Boston Micromachines MEMS based Kilo-C (952-actuator) deformable mirror (DM) and a self-coherent camera (SCC), with the goal of raw contrast surpassing 10−8 at visible wavelengths.1
Image of SCoOB with Boston Micromachines Kilo-C DM and other optical components,
including a focal plane mask (FPM), pupil viewer, camera, light source, mirrors and various lenses
Phase-Induced Amplitude Apodization (PIAA)
Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center have been developing a new high-performance coronagraph hardware that will decrease the amount of excess starlight leaking out, increasing the amount of potentially habitable exoplanets discovered by as much as 50%. The PIAA coronagraph utilizes a Boston Micromachines deformable mirror to suppress starlight close to a star, allowing it to distinguish planets in much closer orbits.2
1024-actuator, Kilo-DM by Boston Micromachines used in a PIAA coronagraph
High-contrast Imager for Complex Aperture Telescope (HiCAT)
The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is developing an integrated solution for high-contrast imaging for unfriendly aperture geometries in space. More precisely, HiCAT aims at developing methods for starlight and diffraction suppression systems using Boston Micromachines deformable mirror technology, as well as wavefront sensing and control tools.3
The HiCAT optical design map using two Boston Micromachines DMs,
along with various other optical components. Refer to reference3 for more details.
High Contrast Imaging Testbed (HCIT)
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is developing and testing MEMS deformable mirror technology for future space-based exoplanet imaging missions. JPL’s HCIT facility is testing BMC Kilo and 2K deformable mirrors and control electronics for spaceflight capability and environmental testing. The scope of the program is to pave the way for a flight-ready wavefront control system.4
Boston Micromachines Kilo-DM in the HCIT
Visible Light Laser Guidestar Experiments (ViLLaGEs)
ViLLaGEs is a MEMS based visible-light wavelength adaptive optics (AO) testbed on the Nickel, 1-meter telescope at the Lick Observatory. The testbed is operated by the University of California and is situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, California. ViLLaGEs utilized a Boston Micromachines 140 actuator-count deformable mirror in proving and successfully advancing AO technology for visible-light wavelength applications.5
ViLLaGEs optical layout using the Boston Micromachines Multi-DM,
and various other optical components. Refer to reference5 for more details.
- “The space coronagraph optical bench (SCoOB): 2. wavefront sensing and control in a vacuum-compatible coronagraph testbed for spaceborne high-contrast imaging technology.”, Van Gorkom, Kyle, et al., Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2022.
- “NASA designs new space telescope optics”, article about Phase-Induced Amplitude Apodization (PIAA) by Ruth Dasso Marlaire, NASA.
- High-contrast Imager for Complex Aperture Telescope (HiCAT).
- “MEMS DM developments in HCIT”, G. Ruane, E. Bendek, C. Mejia Prada, P. Poon, B. Peters, D. Liu, and others, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.
- “ViLLaGEs: opto-mechanical design of an on-sky visible-light MEMS-based AO system”, Grigsby, Bryant, et al., Proc. SPIE 7018, Advanced Optical and Mechanical Technologies in Telescopes and Instrumentation.
Exoplanet discovery using coronagraphy
Boston Micromachines deformable mirrors (DMs) are used in various telescopes and observatories around the world. Our high-actuator count DMs are used for exoplanet discovery using coronagraphy. A coronagraph is an optical instrument that blocks light from the center of a telescope beam, allowing light from surrounding sources to pass through. This optical technique is used to find extrasolar planets and circumstellar disks around nearby stars.
Example of a coronagraph blocking light from a star
The following telescope instruments utilize coronagraphy with Boston Micromachines DMs for exoplanet discovery:
SCExAO at Subaru Telescope
The Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics (SCExAO) system is permanently installed at the Subaru Telescope, which is an 8.2-meter optical-infrared telescope located on the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii. It is operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).
Subaru Telescope of NAOJ, located on Maunakea in Hawaii
SCExAO’s main goal is to image exoplanets and disks around nearby stars by using coronagraphy to block starlight, while keeping the image of a planet mostly unattenuated. The instrument utilizes a 2040 actuator (2K) MEMS DM from Boston Micromachines, along with other optical components, to achieve its goal.
Boston Micromachines 2K DM installed in the SCExAO system (NAOJ Projects: SCExAO)
Gemini Planet Imager
The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a dedicated planet-finding optical instrument built for the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. GPI is designed to directly image and characterize extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The instrument uses advanced adaptive optics with our high-actuator count DM that provides starlight-blocking capability. Various precision optical elements and an infrared spectrograph are also built into the instrument.
Gemini South Telescope located in Chile
Boston Micromachines has built a custom 4096 actuator (4K) DM for GPI that has been used to detect multiple exoplanets. An example is 51 Eri b, which was discovered in 2014 by GPI. At 2 Jupiter masses, it is the coolest and lowest-mass imaged exoplanet to date. The graphical image below uses 5 images taken over 4 years using GPI. In these 4 years, the planet is curving into the star, allowing us to see the gravitational pull of the star on this exoplanet.
51 Eri b imaged by the GPI (Credit: Jason Wang/Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey)
MagAO-X, the successor to MagAO, is an extreme adaptive optics system on the Magellan Clay Telescope that enables high-contrast imaging at visible and near-infrared wavelengths. The instrument utilizes a 2040 actuator (2K) MEMS DM from Boston Micromachines, operating at 3.63 kHz for high-order wavefront control as part of the “tweeter” system.
MagAO-X optical testbed (xwcl.science)
Keck Planet Imager and Characterizer (KPIC)
KPIC is an instrument in the Keck II Telescope, installed at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Designed by Caltech, the instrument enables high spectral resolution characterization of directly imaged exoplanets in the near-infrared. The deployment of KPIC was phased, with phase II introducing a series of upgrades for the telescope’s adaptive optics system, including a 952 actuator Kilo-DM from Boston Micromachines.
KPIC coronagraphy (ET Lab at Caltech: KPIC)
Planet Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Rocket Experiment (PICTURE)
A NASA sounding rocket for high-contrast imaging with a visible nulling coronagraph, the PICTURE payload has made two suborbital attempts to observe the warm dust disk inferred around Epsilon Eridani. The rocket was designed to significantly advance the science and technology supporting exoplanet research, the PICTURE-B mission of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology, at the University of Massachusetts Lowell successfully launched and returned to Earth in November 2015. The Boston Micromachines DM used in the rocket was a continuous surface Kilo-DM, with 1024 actuators, and 1.5 µm stroke. The observations from the experiment demonstrated the first operation and measurement of a DM for high-contrast imaging in space with reflected light.1
Image courtesy of E. Douglas, University of Massachusetts Lowell
The third phase of this experiment, the Planetary Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Recoverable Experiment – Coronagraph (PICTURE-C), is the first balloon-borne experiment designed to directly image debris disks and exozodiacal dust around nearby stars from a high-altitude balloon using a vector vortex coronagraph. PICTURE-C took its first flight in September 2019, where it flew for a total of 20 hours. The second flight was successfully launched in the summer of 2023, followed by results from the experiment in August 2023. PICTURE-C is utilizing a 952-actuator count Kilo-DM for tackling high-order aberrations.2
PICTURE-C being lifted to the stratosphere by an immense NASA balloon (Credit: Christopher Mendillo)
Deformable Mirror Demonstration Mission (DeMi)
Boston Micromachines was part of the DeMi mission, lead by MIT STAR Lab, in a collaboration effort with Aurora Flight Sciences. The mission used a CubeSat, a class of miniaturized satellites, with our Multi-DM MEMS-based DM installed in it to validate and demonstrate wavefront control for a precision of less than 100 nm RMS to be used in space for high-contrast astronomical imaging. The CubeSat was retired in March 2022 after a successful two-year mission. Click here to read more about the DeMi mission.
Artist’s rendition of the DeMi CubeSat in orbit
Our DMs were also baselined for two of the biggest NASA space-based telescope project concepts, HabEx and LUVOIR. These concepts have recently been retired in favor of the new Habitable Worlds Observatory, which Boston Micromachines has been baselined as the deformable mirror technology. Below are details on HabEx and LUVOIR:
Habitable Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx)
HabEx is a concept for a space telescope mission for directly imaging planetary systems around Sun-like stars for exoplanet discovery. One of the instruments designed for HabEx is a coronagraph, fitted with a high-actuator count MEMS based DM. Click here to learn more about the instrument.
HabEx telescope flying in formation with the Starshade in place (NASA)
Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR)
LUVOIR is also a concept mission for a highly capable, multi-wavelength space observatory. The mission encompasses a broad range of science and discovery, from the formation of the galaxy and its evolution, to remote sensing of solar systems and exoplanet discovery. Click here to check out the ambitious LUVOIR mission.
LUVOIR-A observatory with a 15 m telescope (NASA GSF)
- “Wavefront sensing in space: flight demonstration II of the PICTURE sounding rocket payload,” Ewan S. Douglas, Christopher B. Mendillo, Timothy A. Cook, Kerri L. Cahoy, Supriya Chakrabarti, J. Astron. Telesc. Instrum. Syst.
- “Polarization aberration analysis for the PICTURE-C exoplanetary coronagraph,” Christopher B. Mendillo, Glenn A. Howe, Kuravi Hewawasam, Jason Martel, Timothy A. Cook, and Supriya Chakrabarti, J. Astron. Telesc. Instrum. Syst.
Perform at a higher level with the latest technology
Boston Micromachines' continuous and segmented deformable mirrors are ideal for a range of applications in adaptive optics in astronomy.
BMC deformable mirrors enable sophisticated aberration compensation in an easy-to-use package.
Use a standard deformable mirror with an upgraded driver (X-Driver) to receive the fastest-in-class response time from your deformable mirror setup. With sizes ranging from 137 actuators to more than 4000 actuators, we are sure to have the right mirror for your installation.
In addition, the Boston Micromachines' Hex Class deformable mirror architecture can be used in testbeds to simulate the large segmented primary mirrors typically found in the latest Extremely Large Telescope designs. Hex mirror segments can tip, tilt and piston for alternative wavefront control.
Standard Deformable Mirrors
Our deformable mirrors are fielded at prominent astronomical facilities around the world such as the Subaru Observatory and the Magellan Observatory to help researchers improve wavefront correction capabilities These deformable mirrors enable cutting edge space telescope concepts and are used in many facilities around the world. Learn more on the Standard Deformable Mirrors page.Read more >
Hex Class Deformable Mirror
Hex deformable mirrors offer the ability to tip, tilt, and piston multiple segments in varous sized arrays. Boston Micromachines Hex DMs are in prominent astronomical testbeds around the world to help improve wavefront correction capabilities and can be used as primary mirror surrogates to test cutting edge telescope concepts. Learn more on the Hex Tip-Tilt-Piston pageRead more >
Your desire for exploration shouldn't be hampered by wavefront aberrations. Let us help you choose the best deformable mirror for your system
so you can focus on moving your discovery forward with adaptive optics in astronomy. Contact us today.