Astrium delivers ‘multi-eyed’ spectrograph for the James Webb Space Telescope to ESA
06 September 2013
- Astrium completes construction of the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), which will study the evolution of planets, stars and galaxies
- NIRSpec to be a key instrument on the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble space telescope
- Instrument will measure spectra from 100 different galaxies simultaneously
Astrium, Europe’s leading space technology company, has completed the flight model of the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and delivered it to its customer, the European Space Agency (ESA). The instrument will soon be shipped to the United States where, after further testing by NASA, it will be integrated onto the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The completion of NIRSpec marks an important milestone in the construction of JWST. After launch in 2018 on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, it will detect and analyse the very faint light from the first galaxies which formed in the Universe.
Astrium is the prime contractor on behalf of ESA for NIRSpec, which will be capable of measuring the spectrum of up to one hundred objects simultaneously. That will enable JWST to observe large samples of galaxies and stars to unprecedented depths across large swathes of the Universe and far back in time.
NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are collaborating to develop JWST, which will replace the legendary Hubble telescope and enable observation and measurement of infrared wavelengths. JWST will be able to study every phase in the evolution of the Universe in great detail – from the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang to the formation of planetary systems in our own Milky Way galaxy today.
This will be made possible by JWST’s huge primary mirror (which, with 18 hexagonal segments spanning a total of six and a half metres in diameter, will be the largest telescope in space) and its suite of four highly-sensitive scientific instruments, one of which is NIRSpec.
Made from silicon carbide, NIRSpec weighs only 200 kilograms and will operate at temperatures of –233°C as JWST orbits 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth. Once in space, the telescope and its instruments will remain in operation for up to 10 years.
As Eric Béranger, CEO of Astrium Satellites noted: “Astrium is Europe’s top space equipment manufacturer and NIRSpec represents the pinnacle of technology for modern astronomy. JWST will be hugely important in expanding our understanding of how our universe evolved. NIRSpec is further proof of Astrium’s unrivalled expertise. We are proud to be supporting the scientific research that JWST will carry out.”
Along with NIRSpec, Astrium in the UK was also involved in the development of another key instrument for JWST, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). A combined camera and spectrograph for mid-infrared wavelengths, MIRI will extend JWST’s observation capabilities to longer wavelengths than covered by its other instruments, vital for the study of highly red-shifted light from objects in the early universe. MIRI was delivered to ESA and subsequently to NASA in 2012.
Astrium is Europe’s leading company for space systems and technology, and No. 3 worldwide. It is the only company in the world to provide the entire range of civil and military space systems, equipment and services.
In 2012, Astrium achieved a turnover of 5.8 billion euros and had a global workforce of more than 18,000.
Astrium’s core business is divided into three areas: Astrium Space Transportation, Europe’s prime contractor for launchers, orbital systems and space exploration; Astrium Satellites, a leading provider of satellite-based solutions, including satellites, ground segments, payloads and equipment; and Astrium Services, which delivers end-to-end stationary and mobile solutions for secure and commercially viable satellite communication and networks as well as tailor-made geo-information products and services worldwide.
Astrium is a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, a leading international aeronautics company. In 2012, EADS posted revenues of 56.5 billion euros with its defence products and related services, and had over 140,000 employees. Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter are divisions of EADS.