University of Leicester scientists shape space science instrumentation for the next decade

Posted by ap507 at May 23, 2016 10:07 AM |
Amazing telescope will carry key component co-developed by scientists and engineers at the University of Leicester

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 23 May 2016

An image of MIRI attached to ISIM structure is available here:

A UK team - including scientists from the University of Leicester – has returned from a series of rigorous tests carried out on instrumentation for the premier space observatory of the next decade.

20ft high snow drifts, power outages and severe thunderstorms were not enough to stop the University of Leicester scientists and engineers helping to get the Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI) through its third campaign of testing at the NASA Goddard Space test facility.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launches in October 2018 it will be the premier space observatory of the next decade. Just like its predecessor the Hubble Space Telescope did in 1990, JWST will provide astronomers with an unprecedented new capability to observe even more distant objects in the farthest depths of the Cosmos.

On-board this amazing telescope will be a suite of four instruments which will be contained within the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM). MIRI is one of these instruments and was developed within a collaboration between ESA and NASA. The UK team is made up of a partnership between the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), University of Leicester and Airbus Defence and Space with funding from the UK Space Agency.

MIRI has been put through its paces with a rigorous environmental test campaign designed to verify performance and functionality of ISIM. University of Leicester team members travelled out at different times throughout 2015/16 to work together with the NASA team and other supporting teams from the UK and Europe. The test campaign included vibration, thermal, optical, and acoustic followed by functionality tests to ensure that the instrument was still working as it should.

The University of Leicester are leading the overall structural and mechanical engineering work for MIRI, provide support during cold tests, and are involved in the MIRI teams planning for the scientific observations after launch.

Jon Sykes, the University of Leicester Space Research Centre’s Senior Mechanical Engineer, provided the on-site UK support for ISIM vibration testing at NASA. The Flight ISIM structure complete with all instruments was vibration tested over a period of three weeks in order to qualify it for the vibration loads that it will experience during launch.  Although tests were held up by several spectacular thunderstorms, and the associated significant risk of a power outage, the whole ISIM structure behaved superbly throughout the test.

Mr Sykes, said: “These test results are a great testament to the way that the MIRI team, other instrument teams and the ISIM team have worked together to produce a system that performs brilliantly and is so well characterised and understood.”

European PI for MIRI Dr Gillian Wright, MBE, who is Director of STFC UK Astronomy Technology Centre said: “The whole team have done an amazing job over this test campaign and in some cases in the face of adversity given that some of the testing took place in the middle of a snow blizzard and that meant that no one could leave the test area or get to the site!  Now that we have had such  positive results back this enables us to move forward to the next phase, integration with JWST as launch in 2018 gets closer.”

There is a long term display at the National Space Centre in Leicester, featuring a test model of MIRI provided by the MIRI team at the University’s Space Research Centre. The display will be updated as the JWST project continues to develop, with Dr John Pye  - University Space Research Centre Manager - and his colleagues at the University working with the National Space Centre to keep the public informed. 



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