Explore the Laboratory

Created in 2013, the Russell B. Makidon Optics Laboratory is dedicated to advancing technologies for future generations of space telescopes. Our current research focuses on enabling direct images of exoplanets using large segmented telescopes in space — high contrast coronagraphy, optical mirror alignments, applications of deformable mirrors for wavefront sensing and control, and digital micromirror devices for multi-object spectroscopy. 

Repairs to the Pupil Camera
Upgrading the Mount for the Coronagraph Mask
Team Members Securing DM Cables
Team Members Securing Deformable Mirror Cables
Frontal View of HiCAT
Frontal View of HiCAT


Technologies for Future Space Missions

The Russell B. Makidon Optics Laboratory at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to developing technologies for future space missions. The laboratory space was originally built as a high stability environment for creating the Hubble Guide Star Catalog by scanning photographic plates in the 1980s. In early 2013, the lab was completely renovated to accommodate the growing demand for instrumentation development. On May 9, 2013 the lab was inaugurated and now features an electronics workshop and gowning area, adjacent office space for the team, and three cleanrooms. The cleanrooms are temperature, humidity, and pressure controlled with vibration isolation pads original to the STScI construction.

Experiments and Testbeds

Below is a current list of the experments taking place within the lab. 

View of the crucial HiCAT components which consists of two continuous deformable mirrrors, a segmented deformable mirror, and an apodizer. 

High-contrast imager for Complex Aperture Telescopes (HiCAT)

This project seeks to develop high contrast coronagraphic techniques for segmented telescopes, providing an integrated solution for wavefront control and starlight suppression on segmented aperture geometries. Developing this technology will enable direct imaging of exoplanets from space with very large telescopes such as Habex or LUVOIR

BabyCAT inside its portable enclosure.


"BabyCAT" is our affectionate nickname for the coronagraphy tutorial bench specifically use for public outreach & demonstrations of coronagraphy. We can also use it to learn some practical skills for application on more complex systems such as HiCAT.

Exploded view of a DMD pixel consisting of the micromirror itself, two electrode layers, and a CMOS memory layer.
Image credit: Adapted from Travinsky et.al 2017

The Space Telescope Ultraviolet Facility (The STUF)

The STUF has been funded to study the optical properties of digital micromirror devices (DMDs) in the ultraviolet (UV) regime. The STUF optical bench will be hosted within the Makidon Lab at STScI. Our experiments will consist of a reflectometer, a bench-top imager and a bench-top spectrograph. The goal is to characterize scattering, diffraction, reflectivity and throughput of DMDs, both in isolation (reflectometer), and when using in a instrumentlike setup (imager/spectrograph). We aim at achieving significant progress toward a Technology Readiness Level that will make DMDs a viable alternative to micro shutter arrays (MSAs) for NASA explorer, probe or even flagship class missions.

Two of the JOST optical elements: the JWST-like laser-cut pupil mask (left), and the 37 segment Iris AO deformable mirror, 19 segments of which act as the primary mirror (right).

JWST Optical Simulation Testbed (JOST)

The JWST Optical Simulation Testbed (JOST) is a tabletop experiment to simulate the main aspects of wavefront sensing and control (WFS&C) for a segmented space telescope, including both commissioning and maintenance. JOST has an optical design using three aspheric lenses that reproduces the physics of JWST's three-mirror anastigmat. A segmented deformable mirror stands in for the segmented primary. The optical system provides equivalent sampling and image quality as a JWST NIRCam module, but at HeNe wavelength. With 59 degrees of freedom, we can implement many commissioning activities such as phase retrieval algorithm validation studies with a hexagonally segmented DM, test validation of pupil imaging lens concepts and designs, investigate field-dependence (multiple field point sensing and control), test wavefront control software, and train and develop staff expertise. (Adapted from Egron et al., 2017)

Design and Theory
Apodizer designs for LUVOIR (top row and bottom left) and HiCAT (bottom right) from SCDA study.

Design and Theory

We play an active part in the Segmented Coronagraph Design and Analysis (SCDA), a technical study organized by the Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) that seeks to understand the working capability of various coronagraph designs with segmented and obscured telescope apertures, in support of possible future mission concepts being studied by NASA in preparation for the 2020 Decadal Survey. The overall goal is to image terrestrial analogues in the habitable zone of nearby stars. The results of the SCDA effort has directly informed the mission concept study being carried out by the LUVOIR Science and Technology Definition Team. The apodized pupil Lyot coronagraph (APLC) is one of several coronagraph design families that SCDA has assessed, in particular the recent hybrids replacing graded-transmission apodizers with binary-transmission shaped pupils. (Adapted from St.Laurent et al., 2018)

Additional Resources


Read up on the published scientific papers from the optics lab.

Meet the Team

Get to know our current team members and view the roles of our active and past collaborators.

News from the Lab

Get the latest scoop on what is happening inside and outside the lab!

For more information about the Russell B. Makidon Optics Laboratory, please contact .