Watch out, Hubble, there’s a fancy new telescope on the horizon.

Telescopes have opened up the skies to us in ways that once seemed impossible. Engineers have made impressive advancements in telescope technology in the last few decades, and those advancements are coming together, culminating in plans for a new kind of telescope: the High-Definition Space Telescope (HDST) which would potentially launch in the 2030s.

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The need for the HDST is inspired by recent revelations from existing space telescopes and ground-based observatories. The current equipment, while impressive, cannot see as much or as far back in time as scientists require. This is not to disparage current working technologies, but to build on them.

There are several space telescopes at work today. The Hubble Space Telescope continues to offer scientists great insight into the universe. It was deployed in 1990 and, according to NASA, Hubble has revealed 1.2 million observations in its 25 years in orbit.

The next great advancement in space telescopes will be the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is on schedule to be launched in 2018. NASA says, “It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own solar system."

The JWST will be up to the task, but scientists are looking beyond what it can accomplish. With each new discovery, new questions are raised, and proponents of the HDST believe they can build the necessary equipment to take the next step in the search for information in the skies.

Scientists belonging to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) recently revealed a proposition to create a new space telescope that could be a boon to understanding features of planets in our own solar system, objects farther away, and even the mysteries of the beginnings of the universe. The proposed HDST, with a mirror of approximately 39 feet and at a location of 1 million miles from Earth, would offer scientists previously inaccessible data about space and its history. In comparison, Hubble has a 7.8-foot mirror, and JWST will have a 16.4-foot mirror.

AURA says the primary mission of the proposed scope is to search for and analyze potentially life-supporting planets. According to AURA, “In its mission to discover and study Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars, HDST will directly image exoplanets — including planets that may be as much as 10 billion times fainter than their host star — by carefully suppressing the star’s light.” This will aid in the search for life in the universe. The HDST will perform many other functions as well. According to, scientists will be welcome to submit proposals for research.

While it might seem odd to discuss a new space telescope when the James Webb Space Telescope has yet to be launched, but AURA notes that now is the time to begin planning for HDST’s deployment. As preparations for the Hubble began in the 1970s, construction began on JWST in 2004. The proposal for the HDST, according the Nature, “… comes at a time when government funders are starting to think about the next decadal survey of US astronomy priorities, due in 2020.”

The price tag on the new super space telescope is what you would expect: astronomical. The HDST is estimated to cost between $8-10 billion, which could be considered a small price to pay to understand the nature of the universe and to answer the nagging question, “Are we alone?”

Why the next super telescope matters
High-Definition Space Telescope to focus on the search for Earth-like planets.