Testing time for instrument on Hubble's successor

A significant milestone for the Hubble Space Telescope successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is on course to be reached before Christmas with the testing of the verification model of the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

MIRI is one of four sophisticated instruments onboard which will study the early universe and properties of materials forming around new born stars in unprecedented detail. It will also be able to image directly massive planets orbiting other stars.

At the heart of the JWST observatory is a large cold telescope whose primary mirror measures 6.5 metres in diameter compared to 2.4 metres for Hubble, providing an enormous increase in capability to investigate the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems. Due for launch in 2013, JWST, which is a joint cooperative mission between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is optimised to operate over a wide range of infrared wavelengths.

MIRI is the first of the JWST instruments to reach this phase of cryogenic performance testing and marks a significant milestone for this international team, which is funded in the UK by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and spread across STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) plus team members at Astrium Ltd, and the universities of Leicester and Cardiff .

Speaking at the 3rd Appleton Space Conference today (6th December 2007) European Consortium Lead for MIRI, Dr Gillian Wright MBE from the UK ATC in Edinburgh said, "It is extremely exciting, after working on the project since 1998, to begin to test a complete instrument. This will provide scientists with real data which they can use to understand the best ways of making discoveries with the instrument."

The testing is being undertaken at the STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire where all MIRI's subsystems from collaborators in Europe and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab are integrated and tested in full.

This involves thermal and electromagnetic calibration testing along with scientific and environmental testing.

Dr Tanya Lim, who leads the 25 people strong international MIRI testing team explains, "Given the international nature of this project it is essential to bring together both instrument and test equipment components from around the world to ensure that they work together."

She adds, "We will also be using the instrument flight software which will need to work with the spacecraft and ground software systems in order to command the instrument, simulate telemetry to the ground and generate images from the test environment."

The MIRI testing team are working around the clock until the completion of the first tests just before Christmas. Paul Eccleston, MIRI Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) Lead adds, "MIRI is the largest individual flight instrument that has been built at RAL, and has presented unusual challenges particularly with regard to cooling and thermal control. The instrument will operate at temperatures much lower than the rest of the spacecraft. As a result, the first two weeks of testing involved cooling the instrument down to its operational temperature of -267ºC, only 6.2K above absolute zero."


JWST Image - Credit: NASA/ESA. Further JWST images are available from NASA.

Artist's impression of JWST

Due for launch in 2013, JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and it will work at infrared wavelenghts. JWST will help to solve outstanding questions about our place in the evolving Universe. When and how did the first galaxies form after the Big Bang? How did they evolve to become what we see today? How do planetary systems form and evolve? Are there planets that can host life?

MIRI images - All images credited to STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

MIRI testing

Alan Pearce, Paul Eccleston (both RAL) and Sebastien Poupar (CEA Saclay) (L to R) during integration of the Imager subsystem to the MIRI Verification Model in RAL Space Science & Technology Department cleanrooms in June 2007. The MIRI VM hardware shown is provided by the MIRI European Consortium and JPL.

MIRI Testing

Alan Pearce (RAL) integrates the MIRI VM to the instrument alignment fixture provided by NASA GSFC. The MIRI VM hardware shown is provided by the MIRI European Consortium and JPL.

 

MIRI Testing

The fully assembled MIRI VM wrapped in special cryogenic Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) on the support bench of the dedicated MIRI Cryogenic Facility Test Rig in the RAL cleanroom during preparation for the first cryogenic performance tests. The MIRI VM hardware shown is provided by the MIRI European Consortium and JPL.

MIRI Testing

The fully assembled MIRI VM wrapped in special cryogenic Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) on the support bench of the dedicated MIRI Cryogenic Facility Test Rig in the RAL cleanroom during preparation for the first cryogenic performance tests. The MIRI VM hardware shown is provided by the MIRI European Consortium and JPL.

The fully assembled MIRI VM wrapped in special cryogenic Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) on the support bench of the dedicated MIRI Cryogenic Facility Test Rig in the RAL cleanroom during preparation for the first cryogenic performance tests. The instrument undergoes a rotation to check that the precise alignment is maintained under any gravity direction which proves that it will be aligned when launched and in zero-G of space. The MIRI VM hardware shown is provided by the MIRI European Consortium and JPL.

 


Contacts

Gill Ormrod, Science and Technology Facilities Council Press Office
Tel: +44 (0) 1793 442012
Email: gill.ormrod@stfc.ac.uk

Rob Gutro, Goddard Space Flight Center
Tel: 1-301-286-4044
Email: Robert.J.Gutro@nasa.gov

Franco Bonacina, ESA Press relations
Tel: +33 (0) 1 5369 7155.
Email: Franco.Bonacina1@esa.int

Science contacts

Dr Gillian Wright MBE, JWST MIRI European Consortium Principal Investigator, UK ATC, Edinburgh
Tel: +44 (0) 131 668 8248.
Mobile: Tel: +44 791 939 8611
Email: gsw@roe.ac.uk

Paul Eccleston, Assembly, Integration and Test Lead Engineer, STFC RAL
Tel +44 (0) 1235 446366
Email: P.Eccleston@rl.ac.uk

Dr Tanya Lim, MIRI Test Team Lead and Calibration Scientist, STFC RAL
Tel +44 (0) 1235 445045
Email: T.Lim@rl.ac.uk

John Thatcher, European Consortium Project Manager, Astrium Ltd
Tel +44 (0) 1438 773 599
Email : J.Thatcher@astrium.eads.net

John Pye, University of Leicester
Tel +44 (0) 116 252 3552
Email: pye@star.le.ac.uk

Dr Peter Hargrave, University of Cardiff
Tel +44 (0) 2920876682
Email : p.hargrave@astro.cf.ac.uk


Notes to Editors

Further resources: images, animations and information

http://jwstsite.stsci.edu/gallery
http://www.esa.int/science/jwst
MIRI web pages
UK ATC MIRI pages

Further information about MIRI testing

As part of the test programme, the instrument has also undergone alignment checks with a piece of test equipment simulating the part of the spacecraft that the instrument will be attached to. This test equipment was supplied by Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US who are leading the development of the JWST Observatory.

The testing is the culmination of more than a year of careful assembly steps by the institutes in the MIRI European Consortium and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The Verification Model Campaign began with the assembly and testing of the individual sub-systems of MIRI at the UK-ATC in Edinburgh, CEA in Paris, Astron in Gronigren, CSL in Leige and Leicester University, coupled with mechanism tests at MPIA in Heidelberg and PSI in Zurich. Filter testing was carried out at Stockholm Observatory and Dublin Institute for Astronomy, while the development of the instrument software and special state of the art ultra-sensitive detectors took place at JPL.

All of these are incorporated in the integrated instrument at RAL, and the next step for MIRI involves scientific and environmental testing with the commands to the instrument going through the electronic ground support systems for the first time. Following the first functional check the team will conduct a series of performance tests enabling the first infrared images to be taken at the 7 K operating temperature of the instrument. As part of these performance tests, an image will be taken of a point source which simulates a star.

Following on from this initial phase of testing there are further milestones for MIRI in 2008. Early in the new year there will be electromagnetic susceptibility testing. In spring 2008 further testing will take place using the MIRI Telescope Simulator (MTS) - a special facility which is being built in Spain by INTA as part of the Spanish contribution to the MIRI European Consortium. This simulator is unique to MIRI and will be able to simulate the stars that will be seen. These simulated sources will be able to place the point sources anywhere in the MIRI field of view to allow very thorough calibration of the instrument. It will also provide line sources for spectral calibration.

MIRI is being built by a UK led consortium of nationally funded European institutions in the UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Spain in a partnership with NASA JPL, with coordination through ESA. The combined European and US science team is led by Prof George Rieke (University of Arizona) and Dr Gillian Wright (UK ATC). A number of UK Companies have contracts to build the components of MIRI.

The James Webb Space Telescope was formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). NASA and ESA, joined by CSA, have collaborated on JWST since 1997.

James Webb (1902-1992) was NASA's second chief administrator. He was instrumental in the Apollo landings.

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