MIRI is ready to go

Image: STFC

It’s been a busy few months for MIRI, the mid-infrared instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, since we had our Acceptance Review at the start of the year. The team’s engineers have performed some final tests on the instruments to cross a few final t’s, dot the last i’s, both in Europe on the actual flight hardware and on spare parts over in the US.

My fellow test teamers and I are currently working on the calibration procedures for the instruments, or how to get the best scientific information out of the photons hitting the detectors. That should keep us busy for a few more months.

But the big news, fresh in my inbox, is that MIRI has now been officially cleared for shipping and delivery to NASA. This means that the panel charged with examining all our design documentation and test results are satisfied that MIRI is ready to be integrated with the rest of the spacecraft.

This is super good news for the whole team.

Of course, the further integration of MIRI won’t happen in a day either, and there’s still a long road ahead for the telescope, the instruments and the whole spacecraft before JWST will be ready for launch.

Next Wednesday we’re having a ‘do in London to present our work and our test results from MIRI to an audience of Big Wigs and Important People. A press conference has been planned so expect some MIRI-related items in the news next week as well (I hope). While I have got a little bit fond of Didcot and the Rutherford Labs after so many trips there, it does add a sense of occasion to have this event in a swanky venue in London.

I’ll be presenting the test results from the instrument’s low resolution spectrograph to round off the performance presentations – saving the best for last, obviously. (I kid, I kid.) See you there!


MIRI: Preparing for Send-Off

MIRI in all its glory, in RAL Space's clean rooms at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, 8th November 2010.

This past week I spent a few days in Leiden for a meeting of MIRI’s European Consortium, of which I’m a memebr, and a number of our closest US collaborators from NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute and the University of Arizona. Over the summer, we completed our final test campaign for the instrument at the Rutherford Appleton Lab in Didcot.

For 86 days a fully assembled MIRI was held at its chilly operating temperature, 7 Kelvin, inside the cryo-chamber at RAL. During this time, every single wheel and pixel of the instrument got a workout, and with our test equipment, specifically designed to emulate scientific operations on board the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), we got to see the first science-like images from all parts of the instrument, the imager, coronagraph and the spectrographs. Apparently this is the longest a space instrument has ever been tested continuously at cryo temperatures in Europe, prior to delivery.

Some other fun stats: 51 people worked for around 6000 person-hours (I did a measly 80 of those); we produced 6.5 terabytes of data, consisting of 8562 exposures, 2,775,036 detector frames. Those 51 people now have on average 168 exposures to work through – and that’s a conservative estimate, as not all 51 people are involved in the in-depth test analysis.

The completion of the test campaign in early August got some good coverage in the media, which was great to see.

[Read more…]

New Day

Sunrise, seen from the ISS. Beautiful!

Image: NASA

Pluto’s Increased Entourage

NASA and ESA released this great picture from the Hubble Space Telescope this week, showing tiny Pluto’s entourage of moons, imaged twice with a week apart. Three of these were already known – Charon, Nix and Hydra – but Hubble managed to spot a fourth one in there too. It has a diameter of somewhere between 13 and 34 km, roughly 100 times smaller than the best-known moon Charon. The new moon been given the preliminary name P4, which will be replaced by something a little more meaningful in due course. Very neat!

With this, I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks. No blogging, here or elsewhere.

Image: NASA/ESA/M. Showalter


Shuttle Love

To mark the end of the Space Shuttle era, folks at Nature produced this gorgeous video celebrating the programme. Get some coffee, switch to full screen and enjoy!