Canadian Space Agency

Canadian Space Agency

May 14, 2009 13:06 ET

Canada Plays a Key Role in Two New Cosmic Origins Missions

LONGUEUIL, QUEBEC--(Marketwire - May 14, 2009) - The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory and Planck space telescope were successfully launched simultaneously at 9:12 a.m. Eastern today aboard the same Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. With funding from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), four Canadian science teams made important contributions to both satellites, considered to be two of the most ambitious missions seeking to better understand the birth of stars and the dawn of the Universe. While the Herschel and Planck satellites are two separate missions, both contribute to enhance their respective research areas in far-infrared astronomy and cosmology.

"Canada is making a significant contribution to these two cosmic origins missions. I am proud to see that our Canadian team is a key partner in this process," says the Honourable Tony Clement Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the CSA. "This partnership, supported by the Canadian Space Agency, underlines Canada's world-class knowledge in space sciences."

The Herschel Space Observatory

With the largest mirror ever launched into space (with a diametre of 3.5 metres), Herschel will analyze far-infrared and sub-millimetre radiation to determine how the first galaxies formed and how stars are born. It will also have an unprecedented ability to study molecules in space, especially water- the most important molecule for life. Canadian teams from the University of Lethbridge and the University of Waterloo are involved in the development of two of Herschel's science instruments: the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI). For HIFI (which operates, in part, like a very precise radio), Canada is contributing the Local oscillator Source Unit-the device that "tunes" the radio. Canada is providing the Fourier transform spectrometer to SPIRE, which is used to test and calibrate the instrument, as well as data processing software. SPIRE will make sensitive maps of parts of the sky, while HIFI will realise a very detailed spectral analysis of molecules like water.

Professor Michel Fich of the University of Waterloo is the Principal Investigator for HIFI in Canada. Professor David Naylor of the University of Lethbridge is the Principal Investigator for Canada's contribution to SPIRE. COM DEV (Cambridge, Ontario) is the developer and prime contractor for the LSU. Blue Sky Spectroscopy is the centre of expertise for the SPIRE spectrometer, and has developed Data Processing and Science Analysis Software. The Canadian Herschel team includes scientists from the Universities of British Columbia, Calgary, McMaster, Toronto, Victoria, and, Western Ontario as well as the National Research Council Canada.

Planck Satellite

In Europe's first mission to study the birth of the Universe, Planck will survey the sky, with unprecedented resolution and frequency coverage, providing the sharpest picture ever of the Universe when it was only 380 000 years old. The mission will measure with high accuracy the age of the Universe and the total amount of normal and dark matter. Planck will also unveil fundamental features about the origin and evolution of cosmic structure from its nearly uniform beginnings to the complex cosmic web of galaxies and clusters of galaxies that surrounds us now.

Planck is equipped with a powerful 1.5-metre telescope and carries two instruments, the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI) and the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), that act like extremely sensitive thermometers to detect slight temperature variations in the Universe. Canada has developed sophisticated analysis software for studying the complex data streams from the satellite. The software was designed in parallel by the University of British Columbia for LFI and the University of Toronto for HFI.

Canada joins an international consortium lead by the European Space Agency for the Herschel and Planck projects. The CSA's investment in these missions ($17.5 million for Herschel and $4 million for Planck) will allow Canadian researchers to join the teams of scientists who will spend years analyzing the data and answering fundamental questions about cosmic origins.

About the Canadian Space Agency

Established in 1989, the CSA coordinates all civil space-related policies and programs on behalf of the Government of Canada. The CSA directs its resources and activities through four key thrusts: earth observation, space science and exploration, satellite communications, and space awareness and learning. By leveraging international cooperation, the CSA generates world-class scientific research and industrial development for the benefit of humanity.

Contact Information

  • Canadian Space Agency
    Media Relations
    450-926-4370