Today, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), unveiled Canada's contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The CSA is contributing a two-in-one instrument that will direct the telescope precisely, allowing it to study stars and planets forming in other stellar systems. The highly advanced, made-in-Canada technology will be delivered to NASA for integration into the Webb telescope on July 30.
"Canada has a proud legacy in space and we are once again pushing the frontier of what is possible. These two outstanding technologies are perfect examples of how Canada has secured its world-class reputation," said Minister Paradis. "Our Government is committed to ensuring the long-term competitiveness and prosperity of such a vital economic sector."
"Imagine the challenge at hand here: to design and deliver technology capable of unprecedented levels of precision to conduct breakthrough science on board the largest, most complex and most powerful telescope ever built," said Steve MacLean, President of the CSA. "The Webb telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth — too far to be serviced by astronauts like Hubble was. At that distance, the technology simply has to work. This is the outstanding level of excellence Canadians are capable of achieving. It's something for all of us to be proud of."
Slated for launch in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the CSA. The Webb telescope will examine the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang; the formation of new stars; and extra-solar planetary systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. Canada is providing Webb's Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Both were designed, built and tested by COM DEV International in Ottawa and Cambridge, Ontario, with technical contributions from the Université de Montréal and the National Research Council Canada, and scientific guidance of the FGS science team. The CSA's contribution guarantees Canadian astronomers a share of observing time once the telescope launches.
The FGS consists of two identical cameras that are critical to Webb's ability to "see." Their images will allow the telescope to determine its position, locate its celestial targets, and remain pointed to collect high-quality data. The FGS will guide the telescope with incredible precision, with an accuracy of one millionth of a degree.
The NIRISS will have unique capabilities for finding the earliest and most distant objects in the Universe's history. It will also peer through the glare of nearby young stars to unveil new Jupiter-like exoplanets. It will have the capability of detecting the thin atmosphere of small, habitable, earth-like planets and determine its chemical composition to seek water vapour, carbon dioxide and other potential biomarkers such as methane and oxygen.
The FGS-NIRISS science team is jointly led by Dr John Hutchings of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Professor René Doyon from the Université de Montréal, Director of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory and member of the Centre de recherche en astrophysique du Québec (CRAQ). The team includes astronomers from: COM DEV; the NRC; Saint Mary's University; the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI); the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich); the Université de Montréal; the University of Rochester; and the University of Toronto.