|After the Canadarm, the Canadeyes for the future Webb Telescope|
Cutting-edge Canadian space technology directed by Université de Montréal’s René Doyon
Two instruments whose development was led by by the University of Montreal’s Professor René Doyon, known by the acronyms NIRISS and FGS, will be integrated into the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb for short) that will replace Hubble in 2018. The twin instruments leave Canada today and will arrive at NASA at the end of July. « NIRISS will be involved in the discovery and study of Earth-sized exoplanets and the most distant galaxies whilst FGS will have the critical task of ensuring that Webb is precisely aimed at its target, 1.5 million km from Earth,” said Professor Doyon, from the physics department of l’Université de Montréal, Director of Mont-Mégantic Observatory and member of the Centre for research in astrophysics of Quebec (CRAQ)
The Webb is a joint project between the American (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies. The launch date is scheduled for 2018. The telescopes’ mission will be to study the stars and galaxies dating back to the time they formed a few hundreds millions after the Big Bang and it will also search for planetary systems capable of supporting the development of life. Webb will be the successor of the well known Hubble telescope that was launched 22 years ago. “Unlike Hubble, whose orbit is 400 km from Earth’s surface, Webb will be positioned 1.5 million km from our planet – that’s five times the distance between Earth and the Moon,” explained Professor Doyon. “At this distance, its instruments will be in a stable and extremely cold environment. In fact, as it is protected from the sun by a sunshield the size of a tennis court, Webb and its instruments will be cooled to -230 degrees Celsius, which enable it to attain unparalleled levels of sensitivity.”
The Fine Guiding Sensor (FGS) and Near InfraRed Imager and Sitless Spectograph (NIRISS) are the result of efforts undertaken by scientific teams that were lead by Professor Doyon and Dr. John Hutchings of the National Research Council Canada (NRC). The instruments were mostly constructed by COM DEV International, a private company based in Ottawa and Cambridge, Ontario, world leader in the design and construction of space technology. UdeM and the NRC contributed to the conception and testing of several components of the instruments. The partnership between the CSA, COM DEV and the scientific teams affiliated with the NRC and the University of Montreal has pushed the boundaries set by current technology through scientific innovation. Moreover, the partnership has guaranteed that Professor Doyon and other Canadian astronomers will have access to precious observing time once the Webb is in operation.
FGS: Redefining precision
NIRISS: The next step for Professor Doyon’s work will be in Space
FGS/NIRISS will arrive at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight on July 30, 2012. A long series of tests and integration operations with the rest of the telescope will then follow, culminating in the launch of the Webb in 2018. The first data will arrive a few months later.
The international FGS/NIRISS science team, led by Professor Doyon, includes astronomers from the University of Montreal, the University of Toronto, St-Mary’s University (Halifax, Canada), the National Research Council Canada (Victoria, Canada), the United States and Switzerland.
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A replica of the Webb Space Telescope in Old Montreal, with the principal project researchrs. (Professor René Doyon is fourth from the right).
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