In the mid-to-late 2020s, fully autonomous constellations of mass-produced, modest aperture UV and IR telescopes, could bring to space-based astronomical research many of the same benefits that have been provided by arrays and networks of autonomous ground-based visual-wavelength telescopes. Such constellations would nicely complement the autonomous visual ground telescopes as well as larger space telescopes. These constellations would not only expand the space research opportunities of professional astronomers and their graduate students but, thanks to economies of quantity production and their autonomous operation, could also open up research opportunities for undergraduate students and citizen scientists in a manner similar to what has already occurred with autonomous ground-based systems.
Constellations of fully autonomous UV and IR CubeSat telescopes in space could provide time series photometric and spectroscopic follow-up observations of interesting objects identified by larger space and ground survey telescopes. The few (and expensive) large survey telescopes take discovery “snapshots,” while the numerous (and low cost) smaller ground telescopes (at visual wavelengths) and space telescopes (at UV and IR wavelengths) make follow-up “movies” of interesting objects. Together, these various telescopes could form a synergistic, efficient whole.
To help advance future prospects for fully autonomous constellations of mass-produced, modest aperture UV and IR telescopes, the Fairborn Institute has organized and participated in three workshops, a study, and a paper for the National Academies of Science’s Astro 2020 Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics.