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Advancing Space Capabilities: India’s Tech Innovations

Image credits: TMT International Observatory, Press Information Bureau
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Indian researchers have unveiled a groundbreaking online tool designed to compile a comprehensive star catalogue crucial for enhancing the Adaptive Optics (AO) system of the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). This pioneering effort aims to enable the TMT, one of the largest ground-based telescopes slated to begin operations in the next decade, to capture sharper astronomical images.

Image credits: TMT International Observatory, Press Information Bureau

The TMT, alongside other mega-telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope, represents the forefront of ground-based astronomy. India plays a pivotal role in the TMT project, with the India TMT Center at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) spearheading the national collaboration.

Ground-based telescopes face significant challenges from atmospheric distortion, particularly affecting telescopes like the TMT with high light-collection capabilities sensitive to upper atmospheric disturbances. To combat these distortions, the TMT will deploy an Adaptive Optics System (AOS), known as the Narrow Field Infrared Adaptive Optics System (NFIRAOS). This system continuously monitors and adjusts for atmospheric changes to deliver high-resolution images, relying on a catalogue of Near Infrared (NIR) stars across the sky.

Dr. Sarang Shah of IIA explained, “NFIRAOS incorporates a Laser Guide Star (LGS) facility projecting up to nine lasers to create artificial guide stars. However, atmospheric turbulence affects these laser beams, complicating precise atmospheric tip-tilt measurements. To address this, the AO system requires feedback from three actual stars—Natural Guide Stars (NGS).”

The success of NFIRAOS hinges on the availability of NGS within its field of view, each shining as bright as 22 magnitudes in the near-infrared J waveband across all sky regions. Currently, a comprehensive catalogue fulfilling these criteria is nonexistent. Recognising this critical gap, Indian researchers developed an automated tool capable of generating the necessary NIR star catalogue.

“At the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru, we developed an automated code utilising optical sky survey data to predict near-infrared magnitudes of stellar sources,” noted Dr Smitha Subramanian, co-author and IIA faculty member.

Using data from the PAN-STARRS telescope and validated against the UKIDSS survey, the tool achieved over 85% accuracy in predicting NIR magnitudes. This methodological breakthrough sets the stage for creating a vital all-sky NIR star catalogue essential for the TMT’s operational readiness in the coming decade.

India’s engagement in the TMT project involves collaboration among three institutes—IIA Bengaluru, the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) Pune, and the Aryabhatta Research Institute for Observational Sciences (ARIES) Nainital. Conducted at the India-TMT Coordination Center (ITCC) under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, this research underscores India’s commitment to advancing astronomical capabilities and contributing to global scientific endeavours.

The detailed findings of this research have been published in the Astronomical Journal, marking a significant milestone in India’s scientific contributions to cutting-edge astronomy. This development is in line with India’s major strides in space technology.

OpenGov Asia reported that India’s space capabilities received a boost with the successful launch of Agnibaan, an innovative two-stage orbital vehicle powered by India’s first patented Single-Piece 3D-printed Semi-Cryogenic Engines. This milestone signifies a significant advancement for India’s space sector, underscoring the nation’s capability in indigenous manufacturing of advanced space propulsion systems and its ambitions to lead in global space technology.

Similarly, the Technology Development Board (TDB) announced funding for an innovative project aimed at advancing space-grade solar array fabrication and testing processes. This initiative marks a significant step towards enhancing India’s capabilities in space engineering and underscores TDB’s commitment to fostering indigenous innovation.

Such strategic efforts not only set new benchmarks in aerospace technology but also reinforce India’s position as a leader in advanced space technologies, underscoring the nation’s dedication to advancing space exploration and fostering continuous technology innovation.

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