First instrument for the JWST completed and handed over to NASA
10 May 2012
After more than ten years of work by over 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 years 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.”
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.
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
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.
Picture 1: Sean Keen making adjustments to the MIRI, (Mid InfraRed Instrument), flight instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST, during environmental testing in RAL Space's thermal vacuum chamber at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, 16th August 2011.
Credit: Stephen Kill, STFC
Picture 2: Alan Pearce working on the MIRI, Mid InfraRed Instrument, flight instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST, after undergoing environmental testing, in RAL Space's clean rooms at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, 24th August 2011.
Credit: Stephen Kill, STFC
Notes to editors
Images and video of MIRI are available on request.
Lucy Stone Press Office STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +44 (0)1235 445 627 Mob: +44 (0)7920 870125
Madeleine Russell Press Office UK Space Agency Email: email@example.com Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069
Gillian Wright European Principal Investigator for MIRI UK Astronomy Technology Centre Tel: +44 (0)1316 688 248
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 Ã 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.
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