The Royal Astronomical Society has awarded its 2014 RAS Group Achievement Award to the Herschel-SPIRE Consortium.

22nd January 2014

This award recognizes outstanding achievement by large groups in collaboration with other institutes, including STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire and the UKATC at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

The international SPIRE project was managed at RAL which was also responsible for the overall instrument design and engineering management with RAL engineers leading the optics design and the challenging thermal design of the instrument which needed detectors operating at 300mK and cold optics in order to detect faint submillimetre galaxies.

The UKATC helped to develop the instrument design of SPIRE, in particular contributing to the camera optics and layout, and was responsible for the design, testing and manufacture of the beam steering mechanism, a key moving part which had to function reliably at very low temperatures found inside the instrument.

The beam steering mechanism was the first mirror that the infrared light from the telescope encountered when it entered the instrument. It could be moved rapidly back and forth between various positions, so that the detectors could measure alternately regions of the astronomical source of interest and a nearby region of sky. This chopping motion technique was employed by SPIRE because changes in the background infrared radiation entering the telescope can be removed from the astronomical signal, improving the accuracy and sensitivity of the measurements.

The SPIRE instrument was assembled at then tested at RAL in a cryogenic test facility designed and built for the instrument and in order to conduct the tests RAL also led the contributions to the overall Herschel ground segment and prepared the EGSE before leading the tests which proved that the instrument could meet its performance goals and produced the ground calibration data.

The contribution to the ground segment continued in flight and the SPIRE operations centre is led from RAL with UK contributions from Cardiff University and Imperial College. This centre is responsible for all the instrument operations, software and calibration.

Many of the UKATC team who worked on SPIRE have moved on but Prof Gillian Wright, now Director of the UKATC, says that 'This award reflects the contributions of many talented engineers and scientists who made the HERSCHEL/SPIRE project an outstanding European success'.


Royal Astronomical Society

Winners of the 2014 awards, medals and prizes - full details

Cardiff University