In early August, scientists and engineers gathered in a small auditorium at Caltech to discuss how to build the first space telescope capable of detecting life on planets like Earth. The proposed mission concept, called the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO), would be the next powerful astrophysics observatory after NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It would have the ability to study stars, galaxies, and a host of other cosmic objects, including planets outside our solar system, which are known as exoplanets. Though finding life on exoplanets maybe be a long shot, the Caltech workshop aimed to assess the state of technology needed by HWO to search for life elsewhere.

“Before we can design the mission, we need to develop the key technologies as much as possible,” says Dimitri Mawet, a member of the Technical Assessment Group (TAG) for HWO, the David Morrisroe Professor of Astronomy, and a senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed by Caltech for NASA. “We are in a phase of technology maturation. The idea is to further advance the technologies that will enable the Habitable Worlds Observatory to deliver its revolutionary science while minimizing the risks of cost overruns down the line.”

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