University of Leicester space scientists complete decade of work on cryogenically-tested space instrument for NASA

Posted by pt91 at May 09, 2012 02:10 PM |
University of Leicester team play key role in the James Webb Space Telescope which will produce the sharpest images yet of the farthest depths of the cosmos
University of Leicester space scientists complete decade of work on cryogenically-tested space instrument for NASA

Paul Eccleston working on the MIRI flight instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST, during ambient temperature alignment testing in RAL Space's clean rooms at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, 8th November 2010. Credit: Stephen Kill, STFC

University of Leicester engineers and scientists have completed work on a world-leading instrument that will operate in space on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – the successor to Hubble.

After more than 10 years of work by more than 200 engineers nationally, the UK-led Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) has been declared ready for delivery by the European Space Agency and NASA. The MIRI Optical System is a pioneering camera and spectrometer, so sensitive it could see a candle on one of Jupiter’s moons. 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 is the culmination of a long term collaboration effort from teams across both continents.

Personnel from the University’s Space Research Centre and X-ray and Observational Astronomy Research Group, both part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, have been heavily involved as members of the team conducting the intensive  cryogenic test programme – spending many days and nights at the RAL Space facility in Oxfordshire during the three-month campaign in 2011.

Engineers from the University’s Space Research Centre have provided leadership of the mechanical engineering design and construction of MIRI over the last decade, and are heavily involved in the task of ensuring that this delicate instrument, weighing around 100 kg, can be safely transported from the UK to the USA. They will continue to play a key role during the testing of JWST in the USA over the next few years. Local companies in the East Midlands are playing an important role in the transatlantic shipment.

Jon Sykes, of the University’s Space Research Centre, who is the mechanical engineering lead for the whole MIRI Consortium, added: “As a ground-breaking astronomical instrument, MIRI has presented many engineering challenges, which the multi-national design team have worked together to meet and produce a world-class facility.”

Space Research Centre Manager, John Pye, who is also the University’s lead staff member for JWST, said: “It’s fantastic – after a decade working on this project – to at last be able to deliver our instrument to NASA, and to look forward to continue working with our colleagues in Europe and the USA as we push forward towards the launch.”

JWST is scheduled for launch in 2018, but because of the extensive and rigorous testing that has to be undertaken by NASA, the scientific instruments have to be delivered to NASA over the next year.

Click here to read the full press release from the UK Space Agency

FOR INTERVIEWS ON WEDNESDAY ONLY CONTACT: Dr John Pye, University of Leicester, via University of Leicester press office: 0116 252 2415 pressoffice@le.ac.uk

On Thursday and Friday Dr Pye is available on 0116 252 3552.

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