Weighing 90 percent less than a typical telescope, the Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-Optical Reconnaissance (SPIDER) opens a path for extremely lightweight optical instruments, allowing for more hosted payloads or smaller spacecraft. More broadly, the sensor technology has applications for aircraft and other vehicles—anywhere that depends on small optical sensors. The future could see UAVs with imagers laid flat underneath their wings, and cars could have imaging sensors that are flush against their grills.
SPIDER's photonic integrated circuits do not require complex, precision alignment of large lenses and mirrors. That means less risk on orbit. And its many eyes can be rearranged into various configurations, which could offer flexible placement options on its host. Telescopes have always been cylindrical, but SPIDER could begin a new era of different thin-disk shapes staring in the sky, from squares to hexagons and even conformal concepts.