As part of the global effort to hunt out risky celestial objects such as asteroids and comets, ESA is developing an automated telescope for nightly sky surveys. This telescope is the first in a future network that would completely scan the sky and automatically identify possible new near-Earth objects, or NEOs, for follow up and later checking by human researchers.
The telescope, nicknamed ‘Flyeye’, splits the image into 16 smaller subimages to expand the field of view, similar to the technique exploited by a fly’s compound eye. Such fly-eyed survey telescopes provide a very large field of view: 6.7° x 6.7° or about 45 square degrees. 6.7° is about 13 times the diameter of the Moon as seen from the Earth (roughly 0.5 degrees).
In the telescope, a single mirror of 1 m equivalent aperture collects the light from the entire 6.7° x 6.7° field of view and feeds a pyramid-shaped beam splitter with 16 facets. The complete field of view is then imaged by 16 separate cameras. The red caps in the image are the covers over the 16 cameras that contain the 16 detectors. The tubes contain a set of secondary lenses.
In mid-2014, ESA signed a contract for about €1 million with a consortium led by CGS S.p.A (Italy), comprising Creotech Instruments S.A. (Poland), SC EnviroScopY SRL (Romania) and Pro Optica S.A. (Romania) for the detailed design of the advanced telescope.
The first Flyeye telescope is expected to be ready for installation at its final location on Mount Mufara in Sicily at the end of 2019.