Canadian Space Agency Delivers Canada's Contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered Canada’s two contributions to the next generation space telescope. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will use Canadian equipment to point the telescope and to detect atmospheres on Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars.


Last week, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the 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.
“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.”
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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 on July 25, 2012. The two-in-one Canadian instrument is seen here in the background at the CSA’s David Florida Laboratory prior to being shipped to NASA for integration into the telescope. Credit: CSA
The highly advanced, made-in-Canada technology was delivered to NASA for integration into the Webb telescope today. The instrument arrived at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore, Maryland, this morning, where it will be integrated into the largest, most complex and most powerful telescope ever built. Scheduled to be launched in 2018, the Webb is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the CSA
“I’m very pleased–and privileged–that the Canadian Space Agency is supporting NASA and ESA on such an amazing international project,” said Steve MacLean, President of the CSA. “There is a critical difference between Hubble and the Webb. The Webb telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometres from Earth– too far away to be serviced as we did with Hubble. At that distance, the technology simply has to work. So the work done by the Canadian team has to be exactly right.”
The Canadian two-in-one instrument is the second of Webb’s four instruments to be delivered. It consists of the Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which will direct the telescope precisely, and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (or NIRISS) science instrument. Both were designed, built and tested by COM DEV International in Ottawa and Cambridge, Ontario, with technical contributions from the Universit de Montral and the National Research Council of Canada, and under the leadership of the FGS science team. The CSA’s contribution guarantees Canadian astronomers a share of observing time once the telescope launches.
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This crest symbolizes Canada’s two contributions to the Webb, which guarantees Canada’s share of observing time. The target represents the Canadian Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) cameras that will keep the telescope precisely aimed. The Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), represented by the swirl, will offer unique science capabilities for finding the most distant objects, and discovering and characterizing planets in other solar systems. Credit: CSA
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.
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.
“Scientists across the world must remember when they get their data from the Webb telescope, all of those results bear the imprint of the successful hardware contribution that Canada is providing today, because none of it would be possible without the FGS’s capabilities,” said Dr Eric P Smith, Deputy Program Director for the Webb telescope at NASA. “We thank the team and celebrate the effort of the CSA, its primary industrial partner, COM DEV, and the Canadian academic community for their delivery of this critical component for the James Webb Space Telescope.”
The FGS-NIRISS science team is jointly led by Dr John Hutchings of the National Research Council Canada and Professor Ren Doyon from the Universit de Montral, Director of the Mont-Mgantic Observatory and member of the Centre de recherche en astrophysique du Qubec (CRAQ). The team includes astronomers from: COM DEV; the National Research Council Canada; Saint Mary’s University; the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI); the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich); the Universit de Montral; the University of Rochester; and the University of Toronto.

About Randy Attwood

Randy Attwood
Amateur astronomer, astrophotographer, space exploration historian. Executive Director, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada / Publisher - SkyNews magazine.

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