The imaging of faint exoplanets near bright stars requires the development of very high contrast detection techniques, including both precise wavefront control and deep starlight rejection. A system-level proof-of-principle experiment carried out at at the Palomar Observatory has recently demonstrated that exoplanets can be detected very near stars even with a fairly small (1.5 m diameter) telescope aperture, such as someday might be used by a first space-based exoplanet imaging mission. Using fine-scale wavefront correction across this small aperture, together with fine pointing and focus control, pre- and post-detection speckle reduction, and a vector vortex coronagraph, it has been possible to achieve extremely good starlight rejection within a small number of diffractions beams of the stellar position. This performance has recently allowed the imaging of the three HR8799 planets and the HD32297 disk, thus providing a first system-level validation of the steps needed to achieve high-contrast observations at very small angles. These results thus serve to highlight the potential of small space telescopes aiming at high-contrast exoplanet observations. Specifically, a small-angle coronagraph enables the use of smaller telescopes, thus potentially reducing mission cost significantly.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.