First instrument for the JWST is completed and handed over to NASA

Posted by pt91 at May 09, 2012 02:10 PM |
University of Leicester team play key role in building and testing the Mid InfraRed Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope

Issued by the UK Space Agency on 9 May 2012

After more than ten years of work by more than 200 engineers, the Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), a camera so sensitive it could see a candle on one of Jupiter’s moons, has been declared ready for delivery by the European Space Agency and NASA. The MIRI Optical System, an instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that will eventually take up a position four times further away from the Earth than the Moon. It will now be shipped to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where it will be integrated with the other three instruments and the telescope.

MIRI is the first of the four instruments on board the JWST to be completed.  The handover ceremony between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London today is the culmination of a long term collaboration effort from teams across both continents.

Attending the ceremony was David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, who said:

“MIRI is the impressive result of more than ten years of work, led by Britain in partnership with Europe. With world-leading space research facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, a host of excellent universities and strategic direction from the UK Space Agency, the UK is clearly well placed to contribute to major global missions. I am extremely proud to be here for the handover of MIRI to NASA’s James Webb team.”

The UK guided the development work by these teams, in addition to employing UK technologies in the construction of key components and carrying out the assembly, integration, testing and ground calibration at the Science and Technology Facility Council’s (STFC) RAL Space. The instrument has been subjected to exhaustive mechanical and thermal testing at the same facility to make sure it can not only survive the rigors of a journey into space, but also remain operational for the life of the mission.

Gillian Wright, the European Principal Investigator for MIRI based at STFC’s Astronomy Technology Centre said:

"The whole team is delighted that our hard work and dedication has resulted in a MIRI instrument that will meet all our scientific expectations. It is wonderful to be the first to achieve this major milestone for the JWST project.  We can now look forward to significant scientific discoveries when it is launched."

MIRI will allow astronomers to explore the formation of planets around distant stars and could even pave the way for investigations into the habitability of other planetary systems.

MIRI offers a sensitivity and resolution many times greater than any other mid-IR instrument in existence today or for the foreseeable future. It will be able to penetrate the dust obscuring distant objects, allowing for smaller and fainter objects than have ever been detected to be mapped in unprecedented detail. Its wavelength of 5 to 28 microns brings a unique scientific capability among the other instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope. MIRI will therefore have a key role in the study of light that has travelled from the early moments of the universe by JWST. These wavelengths bring additional technical challenges due to the extremely low operating temperatures necessary (-266.5ºc). Unlike the other JWST instruments MIRI will be cooled by a dedicated cooler provided by JPL.

At today’s handover, Eric Smith, JWST Deputy Program Director from NASA HQ said:

“The delivery of JWST’s MIRI is a significant achievement and an important milestone on our collective journey in creating a space telescope that will dramatically alter our understanding of the universe.  On behalf of NASA and the JWST program I want to congratulate the MIRI team for their dedication to scientific excellence and the resulting superb instrument.  I’m excited about the upcoming integration and testing of MIRI with the other science instruments and look forward to continued collaboration with the team.”

Mark McCaughrean, Head of the Research & Scientific Support Department of the European Space Agency said:

"It is an immensely challenging project, but together with our US and Canadian colleagues, European scientists and engineers have successfully risen to the challenge and are now delivering key parts of JWST to NASA."

Facilities at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory had to be specially designed to simulate the environment the instrument will experience in space and account for it’s extremely low operating temperatures. The instrument was assembled from major sub-systems that had already been built-up and thoroughly tested in the partner institutes. The RAL test chamber was then used to test the performance of all the scientific operating modes of the instrument and obtain critical calibration observations. Such rigorous testing promotes confidence in the science it will do when the mission is launched.

MIRI will now be transported the Goddard Space Flight Center in a specially constructed environmental container designed to protect it from moisture and keep the temperature stable. Once there it will start the long process of integration with the other instruments, two years of testing to ensure that they all function together correctly, and then integration and test with the telescope optics. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for 2018.

Notes to editors

Images available

Images and video of MIRI are available on request.

Further information on the James Webb Space Telescope can be found on the ESA website here:


Madeleine Russell
Press Office
UK Space Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069

Lucy Stone
Press Office
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Tel: +44 (0)1235 445 627
Mob: +44 (0)7920 870125

Gillian Wright
European Principal Investigator for MIRI
UK Astronomy Technology Centre
Tel: +44 (0)1316 688 248

Further information

The UK and MIRI

MIRI is provided by a nationally-funded consortium of European institutes in a partnership with JPL.

The UK’s lead role in the instrument involves taking responsibility for the overall science performance, the mechanical, thermal and optical design, along with the assembly, integration, testing and calibration. These roles are shared between the UK institutions in the partnership as follows:

· UK ATC, Edinburgh – European PI for the instrument; scientific leadership; responsible for the overall optical design and integrated analyses, developing the overall calibration, and providing the spectrometer pre-optics and calibration subsystems.

· RAL Space, Oxfordshire – responsible for overall thermal design and analysis and production of all thermal hardware; assembly, integration, testing & verification of MIRI-OS instrument including provision of bespoke test facilities; instrument ground calibration.

· University of Leicester – responsible for integrated mechanical design and analysis; provision of instrument primary structure (in partnership with Danish National Space Centre); provision of mechanical ground support equipment.

· Astrium – Under project manager John Thatcher, Astrium Ltd is responsible for the European project management and leading the instrument systems engineering as well as providing the product assurance expertise for the consortium in direct support to the principal investigator.

The other ESA member states that are part of the MIRI European consortium are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden.


JWST is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. It is scheduled to launch in 2018 and will carry four scientific instruments: MIRI (mid-infrared camera and spectrograph), NIRSpec (near-infrared spectrograph), NIRCam (near-infrared camera), and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS).


MIRI provides imaging, coronagraphy and integral field spectroscopy over the 5-28 micron wavelength range. It is designed as a modular system combining multiple optical configurations in a single instrument. The structural heart of the instrument is a highly light weighted bench developed at the University of Leicester that supports all the optics. The integral field spectrometer uses specially developed image slicers, built at the UK-ATC to enable simultaneous spectroscopy over an astronomical object. The challenging thermal requirements meant that a specially designed blanket was developed by RAL Space to protect the instrument optics from the thermal radiation of the observatory.

The work in Europe is funded by the following National Agencies and ESA:

Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO), Centre Nationale D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), CEA Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, CNRS Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; DTU Space, Deutsches Zentrum Für Luft-und Raumfahrt (DLR), Enterprise Ireland, ESA, Max Planck Society, Ministerio de Economy Competitividad , Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Swiss Space Office, Swedish National Space Board, UK Space Agency, Wallenberg Foundation.

MIRI draws on the scientific and technical expertise of the following organisations: Ames Research Center, USA; Astrium Ltd., UK; CEA-Irfu, Saclay, France; Centre Spatial de Liége, Belgium; Consejo Superior de Investigacones Científicas, Spain; Carl Zeiss Optronics, Germany; Centro de Astrobiologa (INTA-CSIC), Spain; Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden; DTU Space, Denmark; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland; Durham University, UK; European Space Agency, Netherlands; TAS-ETCA, Belgium; Goddard Space Flight Center, USA; Institute d’Astrophysique Spatiale, France; Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial, Spain; Institute of Astronomy, Zurich, Switzerland; Institute for Astronomy, Edinburgh, UK; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA; Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM), France; Lockheed Advanced Technology Center (USA); NOVA-Astron Op-IR instrumentation group; Northrop Grumman, USA; Max-Planck Institut fűr Astronomie (MPIA), Heidelberg, Germany; Observatoire de Paris, France; Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland; Paul Scherrer Institut, Switzerland; Physikalishes Institut, Bern, Switzerland; Raytheon Vision Systems, USA; RUAG Aerospace, Switzerland; Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), UK; Space Telescope Science Institute, USA; Toegepast-Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek (TNO-TPD), Netherlands; UK Astronomy Technology Centre UK; University College London, UK; University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; University of Arizona, USA; University of Cardiff, UK; University of Cologne, Germany; University of Ghent, Belgium; University of Groningen, Netherlands; University of Leicester, UK; University of Leiden, Netherlands; University of Leuven, Belgium; University of Stockholm, Sweden; Utah State Univ., USA.

Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:

· in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR.  STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.

· overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii

It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Instiitut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).  

STFC also has an extensive public outreach and engagement programme.  It is using its world leading research to inspire and enthuse schools and the general public about the impact and benefits that science can have on society.

STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils.  It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Follow us on Twitter @STFC_Matters

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space.  It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

The UK Space Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK’s civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.

The UK Space Agency:

· Co-ordinates UK civil space activity

· Encourages academic research

· Supports the UK space industry

· Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad

· Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits

· Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers

· Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft

· Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

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