Because of mechanical aspects of fabrication, launch, and operational environment, space telescope optics can suffer from unforeseen aberrations, detracting from their intended diffraction-limited performance goals. We give the results of simulation studies designed to explore how wave-front aberration information for such near-diffraction-limited telescopes can be estimated through a regularized, low-pass filtered version of the Gonsalves (least-squares) phase-diversity technique. We numerically simulate models of both monolithic and segmented space telescope mirrors; the segmented case is a simplified model of the proposed next generation space telescope. The simulation results quantify the accuracy of phase diversity as a wave-front sensing (WFS) technique in estimating the pupil phase map. The pupil phase is estimated from pairs of conventional and out-of-focus photon-limited point-source images. Image photon statistics are simulated for three different average light levels. Simulation results give an indication of the minimum light level required for reliable estimation of a large number of aberration parameters under the least-squares paradigm. For weak aberrations that average a 0.10λ pupil rms, the average WFS estimation errors obtained here range from a worst case of 0.057λ pupil rms to a best case of only 0.002λ pupil rms, depending on the light level as well as on the types and degrees of freedom of the aberrations present.
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