The TOLIMAN space telescope is a low-cost, agile mission concept dedicated to astrometric detection of exoplanets in the near-solar environment, and particularly targeting the Alpha Cen system. Although successful discovery technologies are now populating exoplanetary catalogs into the thousands, contemporary astronomy is still poorly equipped to answer the basic question of whether there are any rocky planets orbiting any particular star system. Toliman will make a first study of stars within 10 PC of the sun by deploying an innovative optical and signal encoding architecture that leverages the most promising technology to deliver data on this critical stellar sample: high precision astrometric monitoring. Here we present results from the Foundational Mission Study, jointly funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and the University of Sydney which has translated innovative underlying design principles into error budgets and potential spacecraft systems designs.
By adding a dedicated coronagraph, ESO in collaboration with the Breakthrough Initiatives, modifies the Very Large Telescope mid-IR imager (VISIR) to further boost the high dynamic range imaging capability this instru- ment has. After the VISIR upgrade in 2012, where coronagraphic masks were first added to VISIR, it became evident that coronagraphy at a ground-based 8m-class telescope critically needs adaptive optics, even at wavelengths as long as 10μm. For VISIR, a work-horse observatory facility instrument in normal operations, this is ”easiest” achieved by bringing VISIR as a visiting instrument to the ESO-VLT-UT4 having an adaptive M2. This “visit” enables a meaningful search for Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around both α-Cen1,2. Meaningful here means, achieving a contrast of ≈ 10-6 within ≈ 0.8arcsec from the star while maintaining basically the normal sensitivity of VISIR. This should allow to detect a planet twice the diameter of Earth. Key components will be a diffractive coronagraphic mask, the annular groove phase mask (AGPM), optimized for the most sensitive spectral band-pass in the N-band, complemented by a sophisticated apodizer at the level of the Lyot stop. For VISIR noise filtering based on fast chopping is required. A novel internal chopper system will be integrated into the cryostat. This chopper is based on the standard technique from early radio astronomy, conceived by the microwave pioneer Robert Dicke in 1946, which was instrumental for the discovery of the 3K radio background.
We have fabricated a diamond-turned low-mass version of a toroidal mirror which is a key element for a spaceborne
visible-light heliospheric imager. This mirror's virtual image of roughly a hemisphere of sky is viewed by a conventional
photometric camera. The optical system views close to the edge of an external protective baffle and does not protrude
from the protected volume. The sky-brightness dynamic range and background-light rejection requires minimal wideangle
scattering from the mirror surface. We describe the manufacturing process for this mirror, and present preliminary
laboratory measurements of its wide-angle scattering characteristics.