SPICA Update

From / de David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I, University of Lethbridge
and / et Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team, NRC-Herzberg

(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

SPICA Satellite

SPICA Satellite


On 7 th May 2018, SPICA was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of three candidate missions to be studied in parallel over the next three years in preparation for a final 2021 down-select for ESA’s fifth medium class mission in its Cosmic Vision science programme. If successful in the 2021 down-select, SPICA would be built to launch around 2030. SPICA is a joint European-Japanese project that offers significant gains in far-infrared spectroscopic and survey capabilities. Detailed information about SPICA and its three instruments can be found here and here.

Canada was a founding member of the SPICA/SAFARI consortium and through its contributions over the last decade is now positioned to build the mission critical high resolution polarizing Fourier transform spectrometer (Martin-Puplett Interferometer – MPI) for the SAFARI instrument. This MPI builds on Canada’s contribution to the Herschel/SPIRE instrument and was recognized by the SAFARI consortium as an area of excellence both in Canadian academia and industry. The return from this investment to the Canadian astronomical community will be several times more than that awarded to the Canadian Herschel/SPIRE team. Herschel was, of course, an amazing success, in part due to the significant contributions from the Canadian scientists involved. Indeed, the recent success of SPICA is regarded by many as a direct result of the success of Herschel.

As stated in the SPICA Press Release that accompanied its ESA selection:

“The promise of SPICA is made possible by the combination of a number of significant innovations. A key component is the use of a large 2.5 metre diameter telescope that is cooled to almost 270 degrees below zero, to reduce the background radiation emitted by the telescope itself to the absolute minimum. With such a low background the extremely sensitive Transition Edge Sensors (TES), developed both in the Netherlands at SRON as well as in partner institutes in the UK and the US, can be used to their full potential. The combination of the cold telescope and the ultrasensitive detectors will make SPICA the most sensitive observatory in the mid- and far-infrared ever – with this extreme sensitivity the SPICA instruments will be able to take the spectral fingerprints of objects out to the farthest reaches of the universe.

The observatory will have three instruments covering the full mid- and far-infrared, the wavelength domain between 12 and 350 microns. A combined mid-infrared camera and spectrometer will be provided by a large Japanese consortium led by the University of Nagoya, a French-led European consortium will build a compact imaging polarimeter, and a large SRON-led international consortium will design and implement the largest and most complex instrument, the far-infrared spectrometer SAFARI.

SPICA will be used by the world-wide astronomical community. As is the custom for other great ground based and space observatories all astronomers can propose observations. A panel of independent specialists will rate the proposals according to their scientific quality and determine if and how much time will be awarded for the observations. Proposers will have about a year proprietary access to the measurement, after that period the data are made public to be used by anyone that is interested.”

David Naylor and Doug Johnstone attended the SPICA/SAFARI consortium meeting in Groningen at the end of May, where they were able to partake in the celebration of this significant milestone and actively engage in discussions around the critical paths forward. David Naylor provided an extremely well received report on the progress of the Canadian SAFARI instrument activities. Doug Johnstone also provided an update on the science case for time-domain research with SPICA.

In order to promote the science capabilities of SPICA and build additional enthusiasm and support amongst the international research community, there will be a dedicated international science conference next year on the island of Crete, “Exploring the Infrared Universe: The Promise of SPICA”, 20-23 May 2019. While the project is still over a decade away, the next three years are pivotal in defining the instrumental requirements and observing modes, and we strongly encourage Canadian participation at this meeting.

The recent success of SPICA at ESA in Europe and the strong support for SPICA at JAXA in Japan bodes well for the mission. Canadian astronomers wishing to become more active with SPICA science should contact David Naylor or Doug Johnstone in order to be added to the Canadian SPICA mailing list and/or to be put in contact with like-minded researchers within the SPICA consortium.

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