By/par David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I and Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)
This SPICA Status Report is a revised version of a note that was sent to the Canadian SPICA community e-mail distribution list in early November. Since that time we have learned that the ESO M5 selection process has been delayed by a few months and is now expected to take place in February 2018. We remain very optimistic that SPICA will be selected at that time! Canadian astronomers interested in following the developments of SPICA and not already on the SPICA e-mail distribution list should contact David Naylor or Doug Johnstone.
As you may recall, one year ago, 5 October 2016, the SPICA proposal for a mechanically cryo-cooled infrared space telescope was submitted to ESA’s M5 Cosmic Vision call. In total, thirty-five proposals were submitted to that call. We learned on 7 June 2017 that thirteen proposals, including SPICA, made it through the technical and programmatic review, a hurdle designed to ensure that the required technology was feasible and within the M5 budget envelope. Since that time, these remaining mission concepts have been undergoing rigorous scientific review.
As part of the review process, on 20 October the ESA review committee sent out a list of written questions to each mission team with responses due by 31 October. The questions which the SPICA project received were well posed, but all relatively easily addressed. The final step in the review process was a face to face meeting that took place on in Paris on 8 November. The SPICA PI, Peter Roelfsema, was allowed to take two scientists with him to face the review panel. Accompanied by Takashi Onaka (JAXA) and Martin Girard (CNES), the SPICA team appeared before the ESA panel. Peter Roelfsema reports that the review panel “posed solid/direct questions, mostly for deeper clarification on the answers we had already given, that in my opinion we could address really well. From our side there was no insecurity, no hesitation and we stayed to the point and direct at all times.” Further, “I can safely say that both in the written answers earlier this month as well is in today’s interview we did exactly what was needed – bring across that we have a well-conceived mission, with solid and well-founded science goals, with an open mind as to necessary work and/or adaptations that will need to be done as we learn more in the next years, and all that backed by a very knowledgeable and motivated consortium. I am sure we, again, significantly reinforced our path towards the M5 shortlist.”
According to the ESA M5 review schedule, ESA was to have announced the winning proposals selected for mission studies in December. However, we have recently learned that complications with the M4 decision process have led to a delay in the M5 decision, which is now expected in February 2018. Assuming that SPICA is selected at that time, an outcome for which we remain optimistic, what will follow will be an intense and active three year phase of instrument development to ensure that the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of the various subsystems are at the required level (TRL5/6) before the final mission selection, which is due to take place in February 2021.
There is considerable optimism and excitement about the SPICA mission. At the recent consortium meeting in Rome, attended by myself and Doug Johnstone, many of us were taken off guard by the outright confidence of our PI. Furthermore, these recent SPICA team interactions with ESA have all been very positive. Canada was a founding member of the SPICA team, and although it has been a long journey, dating back to our first meeting (also) in Rome in 2009, it appears that very exciting news is imminent.
You may recall that under the current work package breakdown Canada has been assigned the critical high resolution spectrometer (a Martin-Puplett polarizing Fourier transform spectrometer). This builds on Canadian excellence both in academia and industry. The return from this investment to Canadian scientists like yourselves will be more than four times that awarded to the Canadian Herschel SPIRE team. Herschel was, of course, an amazing success, in part due to the great Canadian scientists involved. Indeed, it is most definitely the success of the Herschel mission that has spurred on the SPICA consortium in making its case to ESA.
Finally, as with all missions, CSA funding will depend upon strong support from the scientific community. Missions must be identified in the Long Range Plan (LRP) and must have a strong cadre of scientists who can exploit the scientific return on what will be a significant investment. Your role in this regard is essential. Toward this end, a series of refereed SPICA science papers have been published (see below) and the next SPICA consortium meeting, Groningen in March 2018, will devote an entire day to science talks. Finally, an open international conference dedicated to SPICA science is being planned for February/March 2019; Doug Johnstone is part of the SOC.
Clearly these are exciting times for SPICA. On behalf of the mission thank you for your continued support!