Cassiopeia Newsletter – Summer Solstice / solstice d’été 2024


In this issue:

ALMA Matters
Update on CASTOR
CFHT News and Updates
Canadian Gemini Office News
ngVLA Update
SKA Update
A Message from the Editor

Editor: Joanne Rosvick

Cassiopeia is CASCA’s quarterly Newsletter, published on or near the solstices and equinoxes (March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21).

To submit a contribution please email All submissions must be received by the specified due date to be published in the next edition. I accept plain text and Word documents. Note that the formatting of your document will not be preserved. Please include any images as attachments in your email, not embedded in the text. Please include URLs in parentheses next to the word or phrase that you wish to act as link anchors.

ALMA Matters

By / par Brenda Matthews and Gerald Schieven (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

WSU News

NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics, along with colleagues from NRAO, are designing the new correlator for ALMA (the ATAC, or Advanced Technology ALMA Correlator), as part of a larger ALMA-wide effort to upgrade ALMA capabilities for the 2030s and beyond (the ALMA Wideband Sensitivity Upgrade, WSU). Last week, ATAC became the first of the subsystems to pass PDR (Preliminary Design Review), and so now enters Critical Design, and this excellent result will no doubt mark an important precedent for the whole WSU effort. At HAA, the ATAC team consists of Brent Carlson, Marty Cluff, Thushara Gunaratne, Stephen Harrison, Nitin Mehta, Michael Pleasance, Fan Zhang, with contributions from many others.

The PDR committee recognised the “Herculean effort” put in by the team, and described them as “phenomenally competent”, having created a “very elegant solution” for the design of the Correlator. Wow!

Cycle 10 Update

ALMA is currently in configuration C-5 (max baseline 1.4 km), moving outward to C-6 at the end of June, then moving inward to end the cycle in September in config C-3.

Cycle 11 Proposal Submission News

On April 24th at around 13 UTC, the day prior to the ALMA Cycle 11 CfP deadline, proposals requiring Bands 7 and higher started experiencing inconsistent observing time estimates. This was due to a temporary and intermittent connectivity issue between the online calibrator catalogue and the Observing Tool (OT), required to search for high frequency calibrators. When the calibrator catalogue could not be accessed, band-to-band calibration was assigned, resulting in an increase in the observing time estimates. In some cases, this prevented validation and submission if the observing time increased above the Large Program threshold. As announced on the Science Portal, initially the problem occurred intermittently and appeared resolved after a short time. Unfortunately, the issue recurred during the hours before the scheduled proposal submission deadline (April 25 at 15 UTC). A second issue related to user authentication also occurred close to the deadline, sometimes preventing users from logging in to submit their proposals. Both issues persisted until the deadline despite steps taken by ALMA to restart specific services. The issues were later identified as resulting from a performance degradation of the servers at the JAO, for which mitigating steps are being taken to prevent this occurring in the future.

To assist users who were impacted by these technical issues, ALMA took the following steps.

A second announcement was placed on the ALMA Science Portal instructing users to submit Helpdesk tickets prior to the ALMA deadline if they continued to be impacted by the issues. ALMA assisted all users who submitted Helpdesk tickets by the deadline and were unable to submit or resubmit their proposals due to these issues. Exceptionally, due to the issues occurring so close to the deadline, ALMA also helped users who submitted Helpdesk tickets immediately after the deadline. Observatory staff assisted users by submitting proposals (.aot files) to the ALMA Archive on behalf of these users. Only proposals affected by these specific issues were submitted in this manner.

All cases in which the proposal was submitted by the PI but with incorrect observing time estimates due to the calibrator catalogue issue will be fixed by the Observatory before proposals are sent to review. Reviewers will also be instructed to ignore any discrepancies in observing time estimates for Bands 7 and above.

It was decided to assist users in this way instead of extending the proposal submission deadline since the technical issues were ongoing and there was no estimate for when normal service could be restored.

Despite the problems affecting the final few hours of the Cycle 11 proposal deadline, ALMA has continued to have a strong demand for time on the telescope, with 1712 proposals submitted for Cycle 11, requesting 53533 hours of time on the 12m-, the 7m-, and the TP arrays. The number of proposals has remained steady over the last few cycles, while time requested for the 12m-array at 31,610 hours was the highest yet, with an oversubscription rate of 7.4. Canadian-led proposals are also continuing to be submitted in strong numbers with 51 proposals submitted requesting 2101 hours, an oversubscription rate of just over 10 of the Canada’s nominal share of North American time.

ALMA Primer Video Series

The ALMA Primer Instructional Video series, which can be found on the Science Portal here, is designed to provide a basic introduction to radio interferometry, calibration, imaging, and other topics in short (5-10 minute), easy-to-digest segments. As a work in progress, new videos are released periodically. A new video, an Introduction to Sidebands, Basebands and Spectral Windows, is expected to be released in early July, and several more will be released later this summer.

Other videos in the series include an Introduction to Radio Interferometry, Calibration, CLEAN, and much more. Subscribe to the ALMA Primer Video Series YouTube channel to be alerted to new videos as they are released.

We are always looking for ideas for new videos, and especially looking for people who would like to help with script generation, animation, and narration. If you have an idea or would like to join the Primer Video Working Group (at any level of effort), please contact

Update on CASTOR

By / par John Hutchings, Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

The UKSA and CSA have signed a bilateral agreement that includes CASTOR. Funds have been already approved and are being used for UK science definition, detector testing, and development work on data flows and optics. On May 13-14, a UKSA delegation visited CSA, Montreal universities and Honeywell Aerospace, and then hosted a reception in Ottawa. UK-led science definition work focuses on TDAMM, galaxies, near-field cosmology and solar system science; an initial coordination meeting between the Canadian and UK science teams was held on June 13.

The final review meeting of the three-year Space Technology Development Program contract, led by ABB, was held on May 16. This contract elevated the TRLs for several technically challenging mission components, with significant work done on the opto-mechanical design, the Focal Plane Arrays, the Fast Steering mirror prototyping, the precision photometer, grism, and UVMOS. After many months, formal export licences to share these details with the UK and LAM partners have been approved.

The NRC internal “Small Teams” proposal to develop the UVMOS has been approved. This will provide some $2M over three years to perform technical work at HAA, in collaboration with partners at LAM (Marseille), LASP (Colorado), and the University of Calgary, as well as contracted work at the University of Manitoba. A kick-off meeting was held recently to initiate these exciting activities.

The CASCA AGM featured half of a shared ACURA town hall meeting on June 4. This event featured short presentations by the CASTOR team, industry, the Coalition and CSA, plus time for questions and discussions.

The Coalition lobbying activities are continuing, including quasi-regular meetings with government and opposition personnel. Coalition members also plan to meet with the CSA and NRC presidents. Although CASTOR was not listed in the federal budget, neither were TMT and SKA in previous years.

An ISSF (Inuvik Satellite Station Facility) optical ground station proposal is in early development by U Manitoba and Natural Resources Canada. This could potentially add an important high-latitude, high-speed downlink capability for CASTOR’s polar orbit.

Work is progressing towards the testing and characterization of the JPL-Te2v processed CIS120 detectors at UV wavelengths. The readout and control electronics for these devices are being developed at HAA, while vacuum facilities are being readied and staffed at HAA and the University of Calgary. This is an important step towards the development of flight detectors. Regular meetings are held with JPL, Te2v, and the UK Open University to discuss and coordinate these activities.

The development of various science planning tools continues, with several FORECASTOR papers published, submitted or in preparation. Co-op student Michelle Kao (Waterloo) recently completed a work term (hosted by U Manitoba and Magellan Aerospace) to develop a multi-mission task scheduler: this tool will be used to investigate and optimize survey scheduling. Wasi Naqvi(UBC Okanagan) recently started at co-op term at HAA to simulate the in-orbit performance of CASTOR’s expected flight detectors with ESA’s advanced Pyxel software. These simulations will support the detector testing programs underway at HAA, Calgary, Teledyne-e2v and Open University.

Plans are being developed with CSA to define Phase A statement-of-work items (or a dedicated subset for an earlier contract, depending on CASTOR funding). CSA-NRC joint agreements on funding and planning shared activities is also in detailed negotiation. The final negotiation of all international partnerships still awaits government approval of the mission.

For more information on the mission, see the CASTOR mission website.

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

Still from a live view of the site at the VLA where the ngVLA prototype 18m antenna will be constructed, starting this summer.

Technology Development at Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics

Engineers at HAA are working on the preliminary designs for the ngVLA Band 5 receiver system. Band 5 is one of the high-frequency receiver band systems planned for the ngVLA, spanning the 30-50 GHz range. This development leverages HAA’s previous experience with building the ALMA Band 3 receivers. Receiver development and manufacture could form the basis of an in-kind contribution to ngVLA participation.

Progress in the US

In 2023 July the US National Science Foundation (NSF) entered the ngVLA project into the design process for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. The ngVLA project is continuing its preparations for the NSF-run Conceptual Design Review, scheduled for 2024 September. In recent congressional hearings, the Director of the NSF cited the ngVLA as the clear next steps for ground based radio astronomy in the US.

Follow the Monarchs: A Journey to Explore the Cosmos at (Sub)milliarcsecond Scales with the ngVLA

This ngVLA international science conference will be held 2024 November 11-14 in person in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Morelia, Mexico. The conference will highlight and explore the novel scientific opportunities that will unfold with the unprecedented angular resolution and sensitivity capabilities offered by this new flagship facility. The conference will coincide with the Monarch butterflies completing their migration journey from Canada and the US to the mountains surrounding Morelia. Abstract submission for oral presentations closes July 8, and early registration is available until September 1. To take these actions, see here.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By /par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director), Michael Rupen (SKA Program Lead, NRC-HAA), Gregory Sivakoff (ACACS Chair), Gilles Joncas (ACURA Executive Director)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

The last six months have been extremely eventful for Canada and the SKA. On April 14, Canada became a member of the  SKA Observatory (SKAO), with full science, technology and governance privileges. This completes the accession process that began last year, with Budget 2023 providing $269.3M over 8 years plus ongoing funds to support Canadian SKA participation through the construction phase and into operations towards the end of this decade. Some scientific, technological, and SKA Regional Centre updates for Canada and the SKA are highlighted below.

Science Update

Canada’s 6% use-share will provide the community with significant access to SKA observing time and computing resources. Construction is phased into Array Assemblies (AAs), each one with increasing numbers of dishes for SKA-Mid and antennas for SKA-Low. Major anticipated science milestones include:

  • Science Verification data from scientifically competitive arrays (Array Assembly 2 = AA2) in late 2027;
  • Shared-risk Principal Investigator (PI) observations with the AA* staged-delivery facilities in late 2028; and
  • The start of large Key Science observing Programs (KSPs) in 2030.

The SKAO science user webpages include resources ranging from staged delivery plans, to key performance documents, to data challenges, to sensitivity calculators. New tools and functionality are being continually added as they are developed by the SKA Operations Team.

In Canada, the ACURA/CASCA Advisory Committee on the SKA (ACACS) has been formed to support Canadian SKA participation and offer guidance to ACURA, CASCA, and NRC. ACACS, which supersedes the pre-commitment ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA (AACS), will ensure coherent messaging and provide feedback, promote the SKAO and coordinate related activities across universities, identify potential resources to support future elements of Canadian SKA participation, and regularly interface with the Canadian astronomical community. ACACS is chaired by Gregory Sivakoff (University of Alberta;, and ACURA and CASCA will soon solicit a call for committee member volunteers. Canadian astronomers interested in ACACS activities are encouraged to reach out to the chair directly.

A major international SKAO General Science Meeting will be held from 16-22 June 2025, in Görlitz, Germany, the location of the new German Center for Astrophysics (Deutsches Zentrum für Astrophysik). The meeting will focus on planning Science Verification and Early Science observation planning, and revising  the (now decade-old) SKA Science Book. Draft chapter submissions will be solicited by SKAO in early Fall, from which the Görlitz meeting program will be planned. To facilitate strong Canadian engagement in this process, ACACS will organise a two-day virtual meeting on Canadian Scientific Participation and Leadership in the SKA in mid-October. Details will be circulated to the community as they become available.

The Canadian SKA Scientists program continues to be developed, with a first call for applications expected in Fall 2024. In the steady state, this new, permanent program will support a total of 8 –10 NRC-funded SKA Scientists spread across Canadian universities. With a 3–5 year fixed term, competitive stipends, and a substantial research/travel budget, Canadian SKA Scientists will carry out independent research in astrophysics with faculty mentorship at the universities where they hold the position, and will also make wide-ranging contributions to the SKA Program under the supervision and mentorship of NRC-HAA staff. The job ad to recruit the first Canadian SKA Scientists will be widely circulated to the Canadian astronomical community.

Technology Update

Left: the pedestal for the first SKA-Mid dish is lifted into position in South Africa. Right: the first SKA-Low station in Australia. Image credits: SKAO

Significant SKA construction progress has now been made on-site. In recent months, the first SKA-Mid dish in South Africa and the first SKA-Low antenna station in Australia have been installed. Both are important steps toward Array Assembly 0.5 (= AA0.5), a major technical construction milestone consisting of the first correlated 4-dish SKA-Mid array and 4-station SKA-Low array. AA0.5 on SKA-Low is anticipated in late 2024 while that for SKA-Mid is expected in early 2025, enabling the first comprehensive, on-site engineering tests of both telescopes.

Canada’s most significant technical contribution to SKA construction is the SKA-Mid Correlator/Beamformer (Mid.CBF). Significant recent progress towards meeting that goal has been made in recent months by NRC-HAA with industry partner MDA Space, including:

  • The Mid.CBF System Requirements Review (SRR), the first major review of Mid.CBF, will be held at MDA on July 2 – 4. The goal is to show that the final design meets all the scientific and non-functional (e.g., safety and environmental) SKA requirements, and is a critical “go/no-go” decision point on the road to deployment.
  • Leading up to this review, the AA0.5 Mid.CBF system is currently being tested at the SKA-Mid system integration facility in Richmond, BC. The goal is an end-to-end demonstration of a 4-antenna / 200 MHz correlator by late June.
  • Looking further ahead, the Pulsar Timing Beamformer FPGA firmware implementation (needed for AA1) is nearing completion and progressing onto hardware tests.  AA2+ designs for the Agilex FPGAs are in the prototyping phase to ensure the firmware designs will fit in the target hardware.
  • On the hardware side, testing is underway for two candidate 32-port 400 GbE network switches to route data within Mid.CBF.
  • Software design and prototyping is also underway for a hardware/firmware emulation environment, to allow testing software systems at scale without huge amounts of signal processing hardware.

Canada is also on track to deliver high-performance, cryogenic low-noise amplifiers (LNAs) for SKA1-Mid’s Band 2 receivers.  The current focus is on the LNAs for AA0.5 and AA1, with the first set tested and shown to meet all requirements.

Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) Update

In March, the SKAO governing Council endorsed the formation of the ~5-year SRCNet Project. The initial focus is on the development and delivery of SRCNet v0.1, the first implementation of a collaborative, federated international network of SKA Regional Centres (SRCs) that will be essential for transforming SKA observations into scientific insights.  The goal of SRCNet v0.1 is to demonstrate the basic capabilities and operation of such a network in time to allow community access to the initial science verification data from AA2. In the long run SRCNet will form the SKA science archive, and also provide much of the processing power needed to turn raw data into the advanced data products needed for SKA science.

The Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) will provide user data access, support, and archive services by building on the Canadian Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) science platform, which is maintained by the CADC using Digital Research Alliance of Canada (Alliance) hardware and CANARIE network services. can|SRC has been selected as one of the five key data centres around the world that will form SRCNet v0.1.   This milestone was achieved through a collaboration agreement between NRC and the Alliance, enabling the necessary computing and storage capacity for can|SRC. This new SRCNet v0.1 capacity is expected to be operational on CANFAR by late fall 2024.

This spring, CANFAR was chosen as the prototype Science Platform for SRCNet v0.1. Additionally, a number of SRC nodes have agreed to contribute significant effort towards integrating the Rucio storage system with CANFAR. Rucio, a data distribution management tool used by CERN, will be implemented for SRCNet v0.1. The goal is to have v0.1 ready for internal data transfers and computing tests by January 2025, with the further aim of supporting scientific test users in v0.3, scheduled for release in Spring 2026.

NRC-HAA is currently hiring a number of developers, as well as at least one radio astronomer to support can|SRC development.  Several additional community-facing astronomy positions will be advertised shortly, aimed at supporting effective access to SKA data by scientists across Canada.  These astronomers will provide information on (and take suggestions for) SKA and can|SRC capabilities and opportunities, and  supervise/mentor the Canadian SKA Scientists discussed above in partnership with university faculty. Job ads for these positions will be widely circulated within the Canadian astronomical community.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

CFHT News and Updates

By Nadine Manset (Director of Science Operations, on behalf of the CFHT ‘ohana)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2024)

The Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope will be 45 years old in August! Strong with experience and expertise, we are planning the upcoming 10 years to continue serving our communities. CFHT’s mission is to provide you with a versatile and state-of-the-art astronomical observing facility that is well-matched to your scientific goals and fully utilizes the potential of the Maunakea site.

As CFHT approaches the end of the current Maunakea lease, we plan to spend the remainder of this decade working in close consultation with the newly formed Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA), our Hawaiʻi community, and our astronomy community to build a collaborative future that we hope results in the continuation and upgrade of CFHT on Maunakea past 2033.

The four pillars of CFHT’s strategy revolve around successfully operating CFHT for at least 10 more years, engaging with the local community in Hawaiʻi, raising awareness in the astronomy community of the need to change the way we practice our profession, and advancing the design work for the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE), which remains our long-term objective.

Operational Component of the 10-year Plan

The operational component of the plan adopted consists of implementing Wenaokeao formerly known as VISION, the co-mount of  ESPaDOnS and SPIRou, starting in 2025, followed by the decommissioning of WIRCam and SITELLE at the end of 2026B. The optomechanical interface Wenaokeao will allow the use of SPIRou only (no intervening optics), ESPaDOnS only (using relay optics), or both SPIRou and ESPaDOnS simultaneously (using a beam splitter).

On the development side, we continue the design of the CFHT-IFU, contingent on grant approval, and advance the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer design.

On the science side, we are increasing the fraction of time dedicated to Large Programs for the 2025A – 2026B period and planning for a major scientific survey that will follow.

In early 2024, we opened a call for Large Programs (LP) to use up to 400 nights from 2025A to 2026B. Out of the 6 proposals received, the one(s) selected will be announced in the fall.

Given the remarkable success of the CFHTLS, we are considering having another major scientific survey, defined by the community (as opposed to teams centered around a single PI), to follow this upcoming round of LP. This major effort would extend over 4 or 5 years and be carried on MegaCam and/or Wenaokeao. Since this has to be community-driven, a call for ideas will be issued and we already welcome your suggestions.

To share your thoughts, feel free to send an email to

A Message from the Editor

By Joanne Rosvick
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2024)

Happy summer solstice everyone! As you may know, this issue of Cassiopeia is my last as editor. It’s been my pleasure to serve as editor for these many years, with Magdalen Normandeau for the first few years, and then as sole editor. In that time I have really enjoyed reading and compiling the articles, and seeing these amazing projects and committees develop over time. But, I will be retiring in the next little while and felt it was time to give someone else this opportunity.

If anyone would like to assume the role of editor (and I hope there are lots of you clamouring for the role!) please send a message to the CASCA President and Board. I am more than willing to help the new editor learn the ropes over the next several months, and will be in touch with the President to arrange that.

Take care everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful summer.

Canadian Gemini Office News

By Eric Steinbring (Canadian Gemini Office, NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2024)

Call for Community Recommendations on the Gemini Strategic Plan

The Gemini Strategic Plan is the roadmap for how the Observatory will enable forefront scientific capability from both hemispheres. And now it’s time to shape the long-range strategy and set priorities for well into the next decade. For example, should Gemini develop new workhorse instruments for both sites, or tend to specialized instruments at each? What are the critical capabilities that instruments should have? Are there synergies with other space- and ground-based facilities that Gemini should prioritize; and what archival and data-reduction improvements would increase your scientific return the most? How can these best support Canada’s projects on the Thirty Meter Telescope, or say, the Habitable Worlds Observatory? This is a reminder of the invitation to submit brief community recommendations here. Details of the format to those reports and instructions for submission are available there. Reports are due by 13 September 2024. Where do you see Gemini best placed in the 2030s?

Cassiopeia Newsletter – Vernal Equinox / équinoxe du printemps 2024


In this issue / Dans ce numéro:

ALMA Matters
Update on CASTOR
Gemini News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien
Indigenous Engagement Committee Report
ngVLA Update

Editor: Joanne Rosvick

Cassiopeia is CASCA’s quarterly Newsletter, published on or near the solstices and equinoxes (March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21).

To submit a contribution please email All submissions must be received by the due date (usually 2 weeks in advance of publication) to be published in the next edition. I accept plain text and Word documents. Note that the formatting of your document will not be preserved. Please include any images as attachments in your email, not embedded in the text. Please include URLs in parentheses next to the word or phrase that you wish to act as link anchors.

Indigenous Engagement Committee Report

By Samantha Lawler (University of Regina)
(Cassiopeia Spring 2024)

On February 13, the CASCA Indigenous Engagement Committee held its first workshop. The topic was “How to invite a local Indigenous knowledge-keeper to your astronomy class”. We discussed what documents were available for helping employees to fruitfully engage with local Indigenous groups, and compiled a list of these. A couple of institutions did not have a document at all, and several have really fantastic, comprehensive documents. A list of links to documents appears at the end of this article.

Many resources were highlighted during the workshop, but the committee wanted to specifically share a very complete document provided by the Calgary Board of Education that can be found here. This document is a complete elder protocol developed in partnership with many community members, the Native Counseling Services of Alberta and the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund.

The main take-aways from the workshop are summarized in the bullet points below:

  • Seek the help of a Cultural Mediator provided (or not) by your institution.
  • Be aware of the burden of requests Indigenous people sometimes receive.
  • Clearly communicate the “shared purpose” of a meeting with the elder/knowledge-keeper.
  • Build a relationship before your event/activity.
  • Story telling takes time, it has a purpose to help you, and it is up to you to extract the tools you need from that story. Structured agendas may not be useful in some settings and Elders especially tend to not like time constraints.
  • Elders have to be accompanied with respect over their whole visit to your institution.
  • Gifts and honoraria must be given with care and respect.
  • Ask what is the best way to reach out, it might not be emails.
  • Prepare your participants in advance. Develop and use a code of conduct.

The IEC thanks all the participants for an excellent discussion, and we plan for future workshops with the CASCA community.

List of Indigenous engagement documents from individual institutions: