German scientists have developed a folding telescope that could dramatically reduce the cost of placing telescopes in space.
The inspiration was the Dobsonian telescopes that are used by amateur astronomers. These usually comprise two mirrors that are held at the correct distance apart using long poles, and can be dismantled and stored in a car for easy transportation to a good observation point.
The telescope is launched in a compact form and slowly unfolds once in space, using metal rods and micro-mechanical systems to ensure that everything goes into the correct position.
As it is very light, it could be possible to launch fleets of them to carry out cheap space-based observations of Earth. Future versions could also be mounted aboard a spacecraft and sent to observe other planets.
The telescope will undergo testing this month aboard ESA’s parabolic flight aircraft, which flies special manoeuvres to mimic conditions in space.