HabEx mission wants to search for Earth-like exoplanets

A new space mission called Habitable Exoplanet Observatory or HabEx wants to use a new space telescope to search for habitable Earth-like exoplanets. The mission would use a telescope with a mirror larger than Hubble's and would use origami techniques to utilize an external starshade to block the light from target stars.

Blocking the light would enable the telescope to search around the star for potentially habitable exoplanets. The goal of the HabEx mission is to search for a planet similar to Earth capable of supporting life. Scientists say that while we have identified several planets outside our Solar System, none have been conclusively shown to have the elements necessary for habitability.

HabEx is seen as the next logical step to search for planets similar to Earth. HabEx would have a mirror that is 4m wide, the mirror in the Hubble space telescope is only 2.4m wide. The starshade is a key component of the mission because exoplanets are often drowned out by brighter light from nearby stars.

The starshade is a 52m flower-shaped disk that could go into space folded origami-like into a tight spiral. Once in orbit, the starshade would unfold and fly nearly 77,000km from the telescope to block the light from stars. The mission would also have additional instruments, including a coronagraph to characterize planets outside the solar system and record images of them.

HabEx is one of four mission concepts proposed by NASA. The federal Decadal Survey intends to make its recommendation on what project will receive funding by 2021. If HabEx is chosen, it would launch in the 2030s and would cost $7 billion over 10 years.