Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2021)

CASTOR is a wide-field UV/blue-optical space telescope that was identified in LRP 2020 as Canada’s top priority in space astronomy in the 2020s. Mission development is continuing, with a significant ramp-up in activity expected during the second half of 2021. Steps taken during the last quarter include the following:

  1. A Space Technology Development Program (STDP) contract for CASTOR is now underway (“Wide-Field Astronomical Imaging in UV/Optical – Critical Technologies”). The kick-off meeting for this study was held on May 5, 2021 and attended by ~40 participants from Canadian government, industry, and academia, plus representatives from prospective CASTOR international partners. The recipient of the STDP contract is ABB, Inc, with subcontracts issued to Honeywell Aerospace and Magellan Aerospace. We are delighted that JPL will be contributing to the detector work package using internal funding; the UK is similarly involved in this work, including the selection of possible test detectors. The STDP study, which runs until May 2023, will reduce technical risk by advancing the design for several critical mission components.
  2. A Phase 0 study, which will overlap the STDP study, was approved in early May and is expected to begin in October. The combined work of these two contracts is intended to fulfil all CSA requirements to enable a smooth transition to flight Phases A to D, with launch possible in early 2028 provided the mission is approved and funded in 2023.
  3. Partnership discussions with ISRO, including involvement in the STDP opto-mechanical design work package, are ongoing but have been slowed by COVID delays. The nominal shared mission will retain Canadian leadership, with substantial cost savings.
  4. The recent CASCA meeting included a virtual CASTOR Town Hall that was attended by ~90 participants. This event included an overview of the mission, short summaries of CASTOR research programs in four science fields (Cosmology, Time Domain Astrophysics, Exoplanets and the Solar System), an update on mission development and schedule from CSA, and community plans for communications and outreach activities in the coming months. Thank you to our speakers: Melissa Graham, Daryl Haggard, Jason Rowe, Wes Fraser, James Doherty and Nathalie Ouellette.
  5. CSA has now assembled a significant CASTOR management team. James Doherty, CSA Program Lead for CASTOR, presented the CASTOR program development schedule at the virtual Town Hall on May 13. Ongoing and planned studies will feed into a CSA “Review Point, R2” in time for a CSA request for funding approval in March 2023. If successful, this would lead to flight Phases A-D beginning in October 2023. Achieving this timeline will require the full engagement of the academic community in apprising the government ahead of that time of its top ranking in LRP2020, as well as the industrial, public, and international partnership benefits of CASTOR.
  6. CASTOR will be the subject of a CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminars) talk on June 16, as well as a “QUEST” talk for the NASA/COPAG Ultraviolet-Visible Science and Technology Interest Group on July 1.
  7. In May, ACURA was briefed on the project and plans to work with CASCA through Coalition for Canadian Astronomy to promote CASTOR as a top priority of the 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.

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

Kamloops déclaration (10 Juin, 2021)

Les sépultures anonymes récemment mises à jour près de l’ancien pensionnat autochtone de Kamloops représentent une atrocité coloniale. Les 215 enfants dont les restes ont été retrouvés ont été retirés de leurs familles dans un effort systématique pour éradiquer leur identité culturelle. Des milliers d’autres enfants ont été déplacés de force dans des dizaines d’institutions similaires et le pensionnat de Kamloops ne sera, en toute probabilité, que le premier de plusieurs sites où des corps seront retrouvés. L’impact de ces actes odieux de violence physique et psychologique commis à l’encontre d’enfants autochtones continue de se faire sentir encore aujourd’hui.

La communauté astronomique canadienne se joint aux Canadiens de tous les horizons qui se montrent solidaires des Premières Nations Tk’emlúps te Secwépmc ainsi que des autres communautés et familles qui ont perdu leurs enfants aux mains du gouvernement canadien et des institutions religieuses. Nous ne pouvons imaginer leur peine et leur chagrin, et nous reconnaissons que la récente découverte des tombes anonymes de Kamloops peut être particulièrement douloureuse pour les membres autochtones de notre société.

En tant qu’universitaires et enseignants, nous devons prendre conscience du fait que les atrocités commises dans les pensionnats l’ont été au nom de l’éducation et reconnaître le rôle que le milieu universitaire a joué dans la perpétuation des structures coloniales.

Le plan à long terme récemment publié par la CASCA décrit les actions spécifiques que nous, astronomes, prenons pour lutter contre le racisme et les inégalités dans notre communauté et en particulier la marginalisation des Autochtones. Alors que nous entamons des efforts afin de rendre notre communauté plus inclusive, les découvertes de Kamloops représentent un rappel brutal du traumatisme engendré par les inégalités que nous nous efforçons de corriger.

Le conseil d’administration de la CASCA

CASCA member is co-winner of prestigious IAU Shaw Prize.

Victoria Kaspi PhD, CC, FRS, FRSC of McGill University is the co-winner of the 2021 Shaw Prize in Astronomy. This year’s prize was awarded for the work which she and Chryssa Kouveliotou have done in the field of magnetars: a class of highly magnetised neutron star. Here is the link to the IAU press release detailing their research.

The Shaw Prize, established under the auspices of Mr Run Run Shaw in November 2002, is an international award to honour individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and have recently achieved distinguished and significant advances making outstanding contributions in academic and scientific research or applications. The Shaw Prize consists of three annual awards: the Prize in Astronomy, the Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Prize in Mathematical Sciences. Each prize carries a monetary award of one million two hundred thousand US dollars.