NASA has awarded BAER scientist Dr. Eduardo Bendek its Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal. The award recognizes two unique technologies Dr. Bendek developed to enhance direct imaging used in exoplanet characterization. The Medal is one of NASA’s “most prestigious honor awards … approved by the Administrator and presented to a number of carefully selected individuals and groups of individuals, both Government and non-Government, who have distinguished themselves by making outstanding contributions to the Agency’s mission.”
The first technology the award recognizes is a diffractive pupil mask that Dr. Bendek designed, built, and tested. The mask amplifies the capability of telescopes such as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets(WFIRST-AFTA), Habitable Exoplanet (HabEx), Large UV/Optical/Near-infrared Telescope (LUVOIR), and others. Dr. Bendek’s invention will allow such telescopes to directly image exoplanets while simultaneously making highly precise measurements of the astrometry wobbles of the host stars. These observations can independently confirm the presence of the planet early in the mission, enabling more efficient use of mission time and therefore, the surveying of more targets. The mask can also provide more accurate measurements of planetary mass.
Dr. Bendek has also developed a low-cost, miniaturized electronics controller for a deformable mirror which he demonstrated in the NASA Ames Research Center Coronagraph Experiment lab.
Both his techniques enable direct imaging to reach its full potential at lower costs and will apply to smaller missions than previously envisioned.