Update from the Canadian Space Agency

Edited by
Denis Laurin




This is the first article of what is planned to be a regular update from the CSA on the space astronomy program.  The article provides a brief update on currently operating missions and news on projects in development. 


Missions Update


Herschel and Planck

This past season we saw the long anticipated launch of Herschel and Planck.  The launch occurred on May 14, 2009, from ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.  The Ariane V performed perfectly and propelled the two spacecraft to the Lagrange L-2 point, a cool and quiet place beyond the moon’s orbit.


The Canadian Space Agency, with Canadian institutions and entrepreneurs contributed to Herschel instruments: the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE).


Professor Michel Fich of the University of Waterloo is the Principal Investigator for HIFI in Canada. COM DEV, Cambridge, Ontario, was the prime contractor for Canada's contribution to HIFI. Several key observation projects are lead by Canadian researchers.

[http://astro.uwaterloo.ca/hifi] [http://spire.uleth.ca/]


Professor David Naylor of the University of Lethbridge is the Principal Investigator for Canada's contribution to SPIRE. Blue Sky Spectroscopy, Lethbridge, Alberta, hosts the centre of expertise for the SPIRE photometric imaging spectrometer.



Canada is also contributing to the Planck mission, UBC, with co-I Dr Douglas Scott, have produce a data plotting and analysis software Kst for the LFI instrument.   The HFI instrument will benefit from the “Quick Look Analysis” software developed at CITA led by Dick Bond (University of Toronto).





This small space telescope continues to deliver well beyond all expectations.  On June 30, 2009 it celebrated its 6th anniversary!  It continues to deliver pointing stability under 1 arcsec, which is unprecedented for a micro-satellite. 


Over 50 refereed publications so far have resulted.  Data is archived at the NRC Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC).  MOST's unique capabilities are recognized world-wide.  Special interest from U.S. researchers has resulted in an agreement between CSA and NASA to establish a U.S. Guest Observer program started Jan 2009 and will be repeated in 2010.



The Principal Investigator, Dr Jaymie Matthews of UBC, maintains an informative website on the mission background, status and science results. [http://www.astro.ubc.ca/MOST/]


Missions in progress



The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is NASA’s flagship mission and also represents Canada's largest contribution to a space astronomy mission. 


Since the last news, the project has been very busy with the hardware and software development.  COM DEV Canada, the prime contractor for the JWST Fine Guider Sensor (FGS) project, has been working on the FGS Engineering Test Unit (ETU) and on the FGS ProtoFlight Model (PFM).


On the FGS ETU, a major achievement has been the successful completion of the cryogenic detector alignment test in August 2009 at CSA David Florida Laboratory (DFL) test facilities.  This milestone now paves the way towards the highly anticipated environmental test campaign where the FGS ETU will be subjected to environmental conditions replicating launch, transition to L2 and operations.  These tests will be conducted at DFL and are planned to start in October 2009.


On the PFM side, COM DEV has now received the first structural components, namely the optical bench and kinematic mounts, and the first optical mirrors.  The proof loading of the kinematic mounts was completed. The mirrors optical performances are currently being tested in ambient and cryogenic environments. The first integration steps of the PFM are planned to start as well in October 2009.


The ETU and PFM are planned to be delivered to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center respectively by early 2010 and early 2011.


(See also J Hutchings, R Doyon JWST update in the summer 2009 edition of Cassiopeia.)

FGS ETU at DFL, the tower on the right is the
Optical Ground Support Equipment




Astrosat – UVIT

The CSA is funding a partnership through a contract with Routes AstroEngineering in Ottawa, for designing and fabrication the UVIT photon-counting detector system for the two 40-cm UV-visible imaging telescope, with support by the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.  Launch of Astrosat is expected for 2010.


The assembly of the flight units is nearly completed and environmental tests planned at the David Florida Laboratory for October 2009. Calibration of the three channels (FUV, NUV, and VIS) of the detector subsystem is planned for November-December 2009 at the University of Calgary with the goal of delivering the instrument to India by year-end for integration to the UVIT and Astrosat payload. Our agreement with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) includes 5% of guaranteed Canadian time after the first year of observation. The Canadian science team will also share guaranteed time with UVIT science team during the performance verification phase (year 1) and guaranteed observing time in subsequent years.



CSA’s next micro-satellite will be another small space telescope.  Using design heritage from MOST, it will also carry a 15-cm aperture telescope, but with a completely different vocation.  Using the advantages of space, NEOSSat (the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite) will be the world’s first space telescope dedicated to detecting and tracking near-Earth asteroids and satellites.  


NEOSSat is a shared project with Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) who will demonstrate the capability of an inexpensive space platform to detect high earth-orbiting satellites and debris.  NEOSSat has passed CDR and has entered Phase D and is baselined for launch in March 2011 and will be operated from CSA.  The PI of the Near-Earth asteroid search is Dr Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary [http://www.neossat.ca/].


In honor of the International Year of Astronomy, anyone interested can submit their names to the PI’s NEOSSat webpage at University of Calgary.  All names will be uploaded to the satellite’s memory before launch in 2011.



Discipline Working Groups


In 2007, CSA requested the formation of specialized Discipline Working Groups (DWG).  As a result 13 DWGs were formed including 5 in space astronomy, namely: High Energy Astrophysics, Far-Infrared, Cosmic Microwave Background, UV-optical, and Wide Field Imaging.  The mandate of the DWG was to strengthen collaboration and consolidate objectives and priorities nationally within each discipline.  The DWGs submitted their recommendations in final reports to the CSA March 2009.  Summaries of these reports are available on the CSA webpage.  These documents provide useful input for CSA plans.



RFP for Concept Studies


A Request for Proposals (RFP) on the Government of Canada tendering service (MERX) for mission concepts studies in Space Astronomy was issued on September 2, 2009.  This RFP addresses priorities set by CSA in consultation with the community for two upcoming international opportunities: Astro-H and a dark energy survey mission.  During an open RFP process all communications about the RFP must be made through the PWGSC as detailed in the RFP itself.

[CSA announcement webpage]


A similar mission concept studies RFP was issued in 2007 and results included two space astronomy studies completed in January 2009.  One was the “Oort Cloud Explorer for Dynamic Occultation Events” telescope (OCLE DOCLE) for detecting outer solar system objects via occultations by background stars (Dr JJ Kavelaars, HIA).  The concept employs a micro-satellite platform, able to accommodate a folded reflective telescope with a 30 cm aperture.  The other study was a concept for a precursor mission on the moon for a liquid mirror telescope.  The science case is well documented and a study of technology requirements was detailed (Dr Paul Hickson, UBC).


SSEP Grants


The Space Science Enhancement Program (SSEP) of the Grants & Contribution program in CSA Space Sciences is intended to provide grants for data analyses of CSA funded science missions (past and present).  In 2005 the SSEP awarded 3 grants for a period of 3 years for data analyses of MOST, BLAST and Herschel.


The 2008 issue of the SSEP saw a considerable increase in funding mainly to match the increasing number of CSA Space Science missions that are starting operations, plus continued support of the past missions.  For space astronomy, this issue of the SSEP selected 9 grants, of approximately $200,000 each, namely data analyses related to Herschel, Planck and BLAST.  Details and a description of the evaluation process are presented on the CSA webpage,.



The JCSA Committee


The joint CASCA and CSA advisory committee (JCSA) will meet at the end of November 2009 at CSA headquarters; information is provided on the CSA webpage, including current membership and summary of recommendations.



Public outreach


A well attended annual activity supported by CSA is the “Tremblant under the stars” which coincides with the Perseid meteor shower in mid August. The weather was fantastic and about 5900 people participated at the summit of Mont Tremblant on the evenings of Aug 14 and 15.  The CSA observatory (a 16-inch telescope at CSA Headquarters) provided real-time images to the Mont-Tremblant event.  There were daytime activities for solar viewing and several space-related presentations.



Denis Laurin


Science Manager, Space Astronomy, Space Science, CSA