In early September 2010, the Canadian Space Agency has delivered a test unit of its contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope, successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
The arrival of the engineering test unit marks a major milestone for the Canadian team. The hardware has been put through its paces at the Canadian Space Agency's David Florida Lab to ensure that the final version will function at peak performance. While all space missions undergo extensive testing, this step is particularly crucial for Webb: unlike Hubble, Webb will be located 1.5 million km from Earth, and will be too far to be serviced by astronauts.
Canada is providing Webb's Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), as well as one of the telescope's four science instruments called the Tunable Filter Imager (TFI). Both are being built in Ottawa and Cambridge, Ontario, by COM DEV International for the Canadian Space Agency. The Fine Guidance Sensor consists of two specialized cameras that are critical to Webb's ability to "see": they will work like a guiding scope to allow the Webb space telescope to locate its celestial targets, determine its own position and remain pointed at an object so that the telescope can collect high-quality data.
The FGS will measure the position of guide stars with incredible precision, pinpointing them with an accuracy of one millionth of a degree. The TFI's unique capabilities will allow astronomers to peer through clouds of dust to see stars forming and planetary systems, possibly even exoplanets (planets outside our Solar System). It also offers unique capability to find the earliest objects in the Universe's history. The Canadian Project Scientist for Webb is Dr John Hutchings of the National Research Council Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, BC. Dr René Doyon of the Université de Montréal is the principal investigator for TFI. Canada is also providing functional support of the science operations for the Webb space telescope. The Canadian Space Agency will deliver the flight units of the FGS and the TFI to NASA in 2011.
The James Webb space telescope is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Scheduled for launch in 2014, Webb will be the first next-generation large space observatory and will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide for a planned lifetime of 10 years or more. Designed to detect light from as far away as approximately 14 billion light years, it will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. Its advanced technology also enables it to discover hitherto unknown phenomena in the Universe.
For more information on Canada's involvement in the James Webb Space Telescope, including imagery, visit the James Webb Space Telescope Website.