Canadian Instruments To Be Added To James Webb Telescope
July 26, 2012

James Webb Telescope To Receive Canadian Instruments

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Canada is helping to supply NASA with instruments that will be integrated into the James Webb Space Telescope.

The instruments, known as NIRISS and FGS, left Canada on Wednesday and are poised to arrive at NASA at the end of July to help supply the succeeder of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018.

NIRISS will help discovery and study Earth-sized exoplanets and the most distant galaxies, while FGS will help ensure that Webb is aiming down on its sites correctly.

Webb is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The telescope will be studying the stars and galaxies that date back to the time they formed just hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang.

The highly anticipated telescope will also be searching for planetary systems that are capable of supporting the development of life.

"Unlike Hubble, whose orbit is 400 km from Earth's surface, Webb will be positioned 1.5 million km from our planet — that's five times the distance between Earth and the Moon," University of Montreal's Professor René Doyon, who led the team to develop the CSA instruments, said in a statement.

"At this distance, its instruments will be in a stable and extremely cold environment. In fact, as it is protected from the sun by a sunshield the size of a tennis court, Webb and its instruments will be cooled to -230 degrees Celsius, which enable it to attain unparalleled levels of sensitivity."

FGS and NIRISS were mostly constructed by COM DEV International, a private company and a leader in the design and construction of space technology.

FGS is considered to be Webb's "steering wheel," helping it remain pointed at objects with precision in order to ensure the future telescope takes sharp images. The instrument will enable the telescope to point in the direction of an object with a precision reaching one-millionth of a degree.

The precision at which FGS will be helping Webb perform is like being able to see the width of a hair from about three miles away.

NIRISS will be one of Webb's four scientific instruments, searching for the faintest and most distant galaxies formed early on in the universe.  Doyon and his team specifically designed the instrument so it could detect the fine atmosphere of Earth-sized exoplanets. It could also determine the composition of these atmospheres, such as whether they contain water vapor and carbon dioxide.

"It has taken us more than ten years to develop and build this incredible machine“¦ that weighs no more than a person," Doyon said. "There are no words to describe my excitement of seeing our instrument finally being shipped to NASA. The whole team just can't wait to see it on orbit and in operation."

NASA's Goddard Space Flight will be receiving the instruments on July 30, 2012.