Recent progress on external occulter technology for imaging exosolar planets

N. Jeremy Kasdin, Robert Joseph Vanderbei, Dan Sirbu, J. Samuels, S. Shaklan, D. Lisman, M. Thomson, E. Cady, S. Martin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations


Imaging planets orbiting nearby stars requires a system for suppressing the host starlight by at least ten orders of magnitude. One such approach uses an external occulter, a satellite flying far from the telescope and employing a large screen, or starshade, to suppress the incoming starlight. This trades the added complexity of building the precisely shaped starshade and flying it in formation against simplifications in the telescope since extremely precise wavefront control is no longer necessary. Much progress has been made recently in designing, testing and manufacturing starshade technology. In this paper we describe the design of starshades and report on recent accomplishments in manufacturing and measuring a prototype occulter petal as part of NASA's first Technology Development for Exoplanet Missions (TDEM) program. We demonstrate that the as-built petal is consistent with a full-size occulter achieving better than 10-10 contrast. We also discuss laboratory testing at the Princeton Occulter Testbed. These experiments use sub-scale, long-distance beam propagation to verify the diffraction analysis associated with occulter starlight suppression. We demonstrate roughly 10-10 suppression in the laboratory and discuss the important challenges and limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2013
StatePublished - Jun 12 2013
Event2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2013 - Big Sky, MT, United States
Duration: Mar 2 2013Mar 9 2013

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Other2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2013
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky, MT

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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