Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)


Foreword and Farewell

Ongoing Missions


Future Missions


Preparing the Future

Topical Teams in Space Astronomy
Space Technology Development Program (STDP)
Science Readiness Levels

Community Support

Co-Investigator (Co-I) Grants (now ROSS)
FAST Grants AO
NSERC PDF Supplements
Canadian Student Participation in Space Conferences


CSEW 2022
The JCSA Consultation Committee

Forward and Farewell

As I prepared this update, I realized that it has been over a year since my last contribution to Cassiopeia. There have been considerable developments at the CSA in the last year.  The news media covered well the announcements of the exploration and lunar program, with its specific funding in the federal budget of March 2023. It included:  an extension of Canada’s participation in the ISS until 2030 ($1.1 billion); developments for a robotic lunar utility vehicle ($1.2 billion over 13 years) and funding for the Lunar Exploration Acceleration Program (LEAP), supporting Canada’s space industry to accelerate the development of new technologies ($150 million over five years), as well as support of Canadian science on the Lunar Gateway (station) ($76.5 million over 8 years).

On April 3, 2023, as part of the NASA lunar mission crew announcement, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister responsible for the CSA, announced that Jeremy Hansen will be the first CSA astronaut to fly around the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis II mission.

In planetary news, an important milestone will occur when the OSIRIS-Rex mission will return the sample from asteroid Bennu on 24 September 2023.  Canada will receive a portion of the sample in return of our contribution of the Laser Altimeter that mapped the surface of the asteroid.

In astronomy news, we look forward to the launch of ESA’s Euclid mission in early July.  Although CSA did not contribute to the mission, many Canadian astronomers are part of the science consortium and CSA provides support to some for their participation through the Co-Investigator grants program.

And not to forget the release of the CSA’s new logo!

And finally, I need to mention that this will be my last contribution to Cassiopeia since I will retire at the end of August.  Working at the CSA supporting the space astronomy program for almost 20 years has always been exciting and rewarding.  The Canadian astronomical community is strong, well organized, well represented with CASCA, and maintains excellence in research, as demonstrated by its involvement on the international scene and contribution to major space observatories.  Canadian astronomers, students, and industry members can be very proud of their accomplishments over the last decades, and the future continues to look very promising thanks to the perseverance of many dynamic members of the community. I had the privilege to meet many great researchers through the CSA programs and as co-Chair of the JCSA for over a decade.

Ongoing Missions and Programs

JWST (J. Dupuis)

Everyone remembers the flawless launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day 2021, and the release of the spectacular first images getting major media attention.

Canada provided the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), a critical element of the observatory used for precise pointing of the telescope, and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) providing superb science.  Science operations are going well with cycle 1 nearly completed.  There has been good response and success from Canadian astronomers for cycles 1 and 2, although the allocated 5% observation time is not used fully yet. There are currently 24 ongoing grants for ERS and cycle 1 investigators, in addition to the 2 ongoing GTO grants extended until completion of the program.  The CSA commits to support researchers receiving observation time, with cycle 2 CSA grant funding AO expected to be released this summer.  NASA / STScI cycle 3 is approaching with a call for proposals on 15 August 2023, and a deadline in October.

The CSA continues to support JWST operations in collaboration with the NRC HAA, the Université de Montréal, as well as technical contract support with Honeywell.

ASTROSAT (J. Dupuis)

The CSA will continue to support the Astrosat mission, operating since 2015; an extension has been approved to 2025.  Astrosat (ISRO) provides Canadians up to 5% of observation time, in return to CSA’s contribution of the UV detector readout system (UVIT). As mentioned in a previous newsletter, the NUV detector of UVIT remains unavailable, but the FUV and VIS channels are performing well.

Several Canadian researchers having obtained observing time in earlier cycles have been awarded grant support from the CSA.  There have been over 138 UVIT publications since the beginning of the mission.  We encourage Astrosat grant recipients to inform CSA of their resulting or upcoming publications, as well as any related media releases.  ISRO continues to announce regular AOs, with cycle 13 results recently announced to the applicants.

The Contribution Agreement with the University of Calgary for science support has been extended.  Users can contact Joe Postma, University of Calgary, for details on UVIT data processing and analysis issues or for assistance in preparation of proposals.


The Ariel mission is ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme medium-class (M4) mission expected for launch in 2029. Ariel is a 4-year mission dedicated to study exoplanet composition, with a 1-m telescope observing in visible and NIR photometric and spectroscopic bands.

Ariel should be of great interest to the exoplanet research community. Canada was invited by the mission Consortium to make a hardware contribution to the spacecraft.  This opportunity requires delivery of a cryo-harness, space-qualified data cables from the instruments to the spacecraft bus that can operate over a range of cryogenic temperatures.  Such a contribution will offer in return exciting scientific research opportunities to the community, consistent with the recommendations of the LRP2020 and the JCSA.

Significant progress has been made, through discussion with Ariel Consortium Project Management, the mission PI and with ESA directly.  A formal Agreement with ESA is drafted and expected to be signed soon.  The scientific return would be the invitation of a co-PI to the Ariel Science Board and allowing several other Canadian collaborators on the Ariel consortium.

NEOSSat Guest Observer (GO) Program

Cycle 6 of the GO program was recently started, with 7 proposals retained.  Since the start of the program, all the data is public, with no proprietary period and quickly uploaded to CADC.  There is no grant funding associated with the GO program.  A description of the NEOSSat space telescope mission (that celebrated its 10th year of operations last February), and information about previous cycles are available here including the list of approved guest observers and projects.


XRISM is the JAXA X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, expected to launch in August 2023.  CSA contributed to support calibration tests of the Resolve instrument, the latter being an important contribution to the payload by NASA.  With CSA grant support, Dr Luigi Gallo at St Mary’s University and Dr Brian McNamara (Resolve team) at the University of Waterloo are members of the teams.  In return for the Resolve calibration efforts, with a CSA/NASA MOU, Canadian astronomers can compete for (US) observation time through the competitive NASA solicitations.  There is already one successful applicant to the early XGS (commissioning phase) program, Dr J. Hlavacek-Larrondo, Univ. de Montreal. The CSA will support future successful applicants to the NASA GO cycles 1 and 2 solicitations; details will be provided shortly after launch.


On 14 March 2023 BRITE celebrated its 10th anniversary, quite an exceptional accomplishment for a set of nanosatellites originally designed for 1 or 2 years of operations. BRITE was a Canadian concept, following the success of MOST and attracted international partners (Austria and Poland).  Through a decade of science, it generated over 200 papers.

The CSA helped BRITE development since 2010 and has been supporting the operations and science of since its launch in 2013. The last fiscal year 2022-2023 was the last year of support.  CSA greatly appreciated the services of the University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) for the operations of the nanosatellite and to Prof. Gregg Wade at RMC for his leadership of the BRITE science coordination throughout these years.

Future Missions


CASTOR is recognized as the top priority in the LRP2020 for a very large space astronomy mission.  This initiative gathered momentum after a comprehensive technical and science study completed in 2019 that defined a mission baseline and refined the science objectives with instrument requirements, documented in comprehensive technical and science reports.

CASTOR investments continue today with an important technology development since early 2021 to be completed in Dec 2023.  This $2.25M investment includes work on telescope optical and structure design, focal plane and large area detectors, a fine steering mirror, a UVMOS and a photometer for exoplanet transits.

A Phase 0 study with industry is almost completed to confirm the baseline design of the mission including the cost estimation and a development plan.  Further mission science developments continue in parallel under the leadership of NRC HAA.  The science lead (Pat Côté) manages 8 Science Working Groups, addressing different science objectives, which further demonstrates the capabilities and versatility of the observatory.  (See Pat Côté’s contribution to this issue of Cassiopeia on CASTOR.)

Such a large mission will require a special budget request from the government as it is beyond the operational budget of the CSA.  Continued and broadly expressed community support (academia, industry, public and other organizations) will be essential to realize these ambitious objectives.

The CSA is in close collaboration with NRC HAA to define a plan forward as well as explore the interests of potential international partners to join and contribute to the mission.


JAXA selected LiteBIRD as their next large-class mission and considerable developments are ongoing with international partners, with a targeted launch date in early 2030s.  Canada was welcomed as potential contributor several years ago to provide the warm readout electronics for the large array of cryogenic bolometers needed for this CMB Pol mission.  CSA has invested technology developments (STDP) over several years, starting in 2012 with McGill University, and more recently with another STDP until end of 2023 to advance this unique technology.  These investments are aligned with the LRP2020 priorities that marked a LiteBIRD contribution the top priority for a large-scale contribution in this decade.

CSA recently signed an Agreement with JAXA to better coordinate efforts during the pre-mission phase.  CSA supports a Phase 0 until end of 2023 with McGill University to define the interfaces, costing and science support needs.

Preparing the Future

Topical Teams in Space Astronomy

The CSA is supporting Topical Teams (TT) in space sciences, similar to the TT in 2016, including four in space astronomy, in order to identify future objectives and opportunities.  Following the publication of the LRP2020, the release of the US Decadal Plan and the ESA Voyage 2050, the CSA Topical Teams refine the future priorities for space sciences.  The TT chairs and team were formed competitively and obtained financial support from the CSA for their activities.  The product will be an important report that reflects the science priorities and needs of the community that will be used as a key reference by CSA for future studies, guide investments (business cases and communications to stakeholders. The report covers space astronomy, planetary science and space health (astronauts).  In space astronomy there are four topics: cosmic origins, stellar and galaxy evolution, HEA and gravitational waves, and exoplanets. Each has a Topical Team Chair with teams of tens of contributors.  A final review meeting was held in May and the final reports from each team are due at the end of June.  CSA will compile the results, prepare a global executive summary and target a release of the final report later this summer or early fall.

Space Technology Development Program (STDP)

The Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program (STDP) supports innovation to reduce technological risks for future space missions, with the goal to increase the Technology Readiness Level (TRL). An overview of the program can be seen on the CSA webpage.

STDP has been very useful for candidate space astronomy missions.  Currently there are technology development contracts targeting specific (astronomy) missions (reflecting priorities in the LRP): CASTOR, LiteBIRD, POET, EMCCD and a FTS for a far-IR mission (additional details here).

Science Readiness Levels

The CSA has authored a guide for the definition of Science Readiness Levels (SRL).  This guide borrows from the well-known concept of space Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) and Technology Readiness and Risk Assessments (TRRA) to assist cost-effective management of advanced technology Research and Development (R&D) activities.  The SRL guide will help to evaluate the readiness of science objectives and requirements (as criteria) and their evolution from concept studies, science maturation as well as throughout all phases of mission developments.  An earlier version of the SRL document has been used as a reference to various RFPs and AOs in space sciences.  An updated version will soon be available (in both official languages).

Community Support Announcements of Opportunities (AO)

Co-Investigator (Co-I) Grants (now ROSS) – supporting Canadian researchers on international missions

The Co-I program was described in the Sept 2019 Cassiopeia issue.  The program is now merged with the Space Utilisation branch of the CSA and is renamed ROSS (Research Opportunities in Space Science).  The eligible topics for space astronomy are essentially unchanged.  The AO is always open with specific annual due dates.  With the current year’s deadline sooner than in previous years, please check due dates and other details here.  Since its inception in 2018, the CSA has issued 14 grants in astronomy, and 12 in planetary sciences (Space Exploration branch).

FAST Grants AO

The 2021 FAST resulted in one grant in planetary science and 6 grants in space astronomy.  Note that details of all grants issued can be seen in the proactive disclosure government webpage.

FAST opportunities are planned every two years.  The intent is to issue the 2023 AO this summer (tentatively posting July or August for a 3 to 4 month period).  Priorities for astronomy remain open as in prior issues, details will be in the AO.

NSERC PDF Supplements

In the last two years the CSA offered an opportunity to supplement NSERC Postdoctoral Fellows.  The program broadly addresses space research including but is not limited to space astronomy.  The webpage of this opportunity (now closed) on the CSA website offers details. The intent is to repeat this announcement in the coming months.

Canadian Student Participation in Space Conferences

The CSA can support Canadian post-secondary students to attend conferences and training events, including ESA training opportunities, by providing travel grants.  Details on eligibility, eligible conferences and events (the list is updated approximately every six months), and other details are on the AO webpage.


CSEW 2022

The first opportunity for the Topical Teams (described above) to meet and broadly discuss scientific priorities was held at the Canadian Space Exploration Workshop (CSEW) on June 14-16, 2022 (virtual event). This workshop brought together scientific and technical communities from academia, industry and government to discuss Canadian science priorities and Canada’s future in space sciences and exploration.

The JCSA Consultation Committee

The current membership consists of:

  • Locke Spencer, University of Lethbridge (out going co-Chair)
  • Denis Laurin, CSA (co-Chair)
  • Mike Hudson, University of Waterloo
  • Jess McIver, UBC
  • Stan Metchev (new co-Chair)
  • Jeremy Heyl, UBC

The CSA Committees are shown on the CSA webpage including the Terms of Reference.  Members will be rotating off as they end their terms; researchers with space astronomy experience interested in the membership may express their interest to the JCSA members or the co-Chairs or CASCA.


Wishing everyone a wonderful summer!

Denis Laurin

ALMA Matters

By / par Brenda Matthews and Gerald Schieven (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2023)

ALMA 10 Years Meeting

The conference ALMA at 10 years: Past, Present, and Future will be held in Puerto Varas, Chile from 4-8 December 2023. Abstract submissions for talks and on-site posters have closed, and interest for in-person registration has exceeded the 180-person capacity. The number of abstracts received was very high (279) so the SOC has their work cut out for them to select 45-50 talks from this number.

Virtual attendance, including posters, is still possible. Those interested can register via this site.

Cycle 10 Proposal Statistics

General stats:

  • Number of proposals: 1680
  • Number of proposals with Canadian PI or coPI: 54
    • This is the highest number ever, eight more than the previous record in Cycle 8
  • Total time requested on the 12m-Array: 29,525h
    • This is also a record amount of requested time
  • Time requested by Canadian PIs/coPIs: 1061.2h
    • This is about 200h less than Cycle 8, but still second highest time requested
  • Time requested by proposals with at least one Canadian: 4893.4h
  • Global oversubscription rate: 6.9
  • Canadian PI/coPI oversubscription rate: 10.3
    • (as a fraction of North American time)
  • 44 Large Programs were submitted, requesting nearly 5000h on the 12m-Array

Joint Proposals with other facilities, including the Space Telescope Science Institute’s James Webb Space Telescope, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope were available for Cycle 10. Uptake from the community was strong. Forty-two Joint Proposals were submitted, requesting over 1200h on the 12m-Array. In total, 26 Joint Proposals requested time on the JWST, 10 requested the VLA, and 10 requested the VLT.

ALMA Cycle 10 will start in October 2023. In the main 12-m Array, antenna configurations C-1 to C-8 (with maximum baselines between 0.16 and 8.5 km) will be scheduled.

The ALMA User-Defined Imaging (AUDI) Service

We would like to inform you that an updated ALMA User-Defined Imaging (AUDI) service, including automated self-calibration, was released this month and is available through the NRAO archive. Look for the ‘Reimaging’ button associated with an ALMA dataset. This new capability may be of interest to you and/or your students this summer. As a reminder, you may also download restored measurement sets for ALMA (Cycle 5 and later) and VLA data (2016 and later) through the NRAO archive as well. If you do not see a particular ALMA dataset of interest marked with the blue ‘Restore’ or ‘Reimaging’ button and should be, please send a message to John Tobin and he will investigate.

The imaging pipeline behind the AUDI service attempts phase-only self-calibration using the continuum data. AUDI requests now will attempt phase-only self-calibration by default, and if self-calibration is successful, both the non-self-calibrated and the self-calibrated images will be delivered to users. If self-calibration is unsuccessful, only the non-self-calibrated images are delivered.

The CASA+pipeline package used for AUDI and includes the self-calibration task is available for download and standalone use of the pipeline with self-calibration. Further documentation of the self-calibration task and example pipeline recipes for ALMA and VLA data are provided here.

Need Help with ALMA Data Reduction?

Members of the NAASC, including those at HAA in Victoria, are always available to offer assistance with data processing/reduction questions.

In addition, The North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC) via its ALMA Ambassadors will hold data processing workshops later this year. The schedule is not yet set, but those interested can keep an eye on the workshop schedule.

Canadians are encouraged to apply to be ALMA ambassadors. Cycle 10 had two ALMA Ambassadors at Canadian institutions (Adam Dong and Jiayi Sun), and we hope to see applications submitted for Cycle 11 as well. Those interested can consult the website for the ALMA Ambassadors program. The Cycle 11 information is not yet there, but be aware the deadline is typically around mid-October. Grant money is attached to this program.

ALMA Primer Instructional Videos: reminder!

Radio interferometry, including with ALMA, is a complex and often non-intuitive field. Like the ALMA introductory document, Observing with ALMA – A Primer, the ALMA Primer Instructional Video Series is designed to provide a basic introduction to radio interferometry, calibration, imaging, and other topics in brief (5-15 minutes), bite-size pieces. In addition, short (<1minute) extracts of some of these videos are available to use when teaching or in presentations. The series is a work in progress; new videos are added periodically.

The ALMA Primer Instructional Video Series is now available from the ALMA Science Portal. The videos are also available from the ALMA Primer YouTube Channel here. Subscribe to be alerted whenever new videos are added!

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2023)

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP) took place in two phases. The first phase, focused on technical readiness of TMT, was completed at the end of 2022; the programmatics (governance, operations etc) were reviewed separately at the end of January 2023. The full PDR report was delivered to the NSF in March, but will not be distributed to US-ELTP participants. The Project is still awaiting a written summary of the main findings and recommendations. Negotiations with the NSF are ongoing, to establish an appropriate model for governance and partner shares in the case of NSF participation. There has been no update on the schedule for the Final Design Review (FDR), which would normally take place about 1-1.5 years after the PDR. At the same time, the NSF Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Section 106 process continues, with updates and FAQ provided here. The volume of comments submitted during the scoping process has resulted in further delay to this review and hence to the construction timeline. A revised timeline is not available yet, but will be posted to the website above.

Decommissioning of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) is proceeding on Mauna Kea and this is being closely monitored by the Mauna Kea Stewardship Oversight Authority (MKSOA). Detailed, up to date information about the process is available at the CSO website.

Meanwhile, on the alternative site of Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM), an appeal to the Supreme Court by the environmental group Ben Magec has been dismissed. The legal right to construct TMT on ORM is therefore maintained and no further legal obstacles to the land concession are anticipated. All construction permits are in place. However, Mauna Kea remains the preferred site for TMT construction, and this is likely to remain the case until the NSF process has concluded.

In April, the second in a series of public TMT webinars was held. This one focused on first-light instrumentation capabilities. The video and the PDFs of the presentations are posted here.

CATAC membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair, mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Jason Rowe (Bishop’s)
Stan Metchev (Western University; TIO SAC Canadian co-chair)
Kim Venn (ACURA Board Chair, non-voting, ex-officio)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Christine Wilson (Acting CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC; NRC, observer)

Report from the LCRIC

By Sharon Morsink (LCRIC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2023)

The Long Range Plan Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC) was created to make sure that CASCA makes progress on the recommendations in the Long Range Plan 2020 related to our community. This includes issues related to Indigenous relations, equity and inclusivity, education and public outreach, sustainability, and trainees.

The Indigenous Engagement Committee

The formation of an Indigenous Engagement Committee (IEC) is recommendation 46 in the Long Range Plan and is an essential part of CASCA’s response to the calls to action arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The CASCA Board voted to form the IEC, with terms drafted by the LCRIC. We are happy that the Board asked Dr. Laurie Rousseau-Nepton to serve as the first chair, and that she has accepted this important position. She will be recruiting members for this committee. If you are interested in serving on this committee, you can contact Laurie and let her know about your interest.

The mandate of the Indigenous Engagement Committee (IEC) is to facilitate engagement and relationships with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada. The main roles of this committee are:

  1. To actively seek out and engage in dialogues with Indigenous communities, to discover mutual interests, and to identify opportunities to learn from and support each other.
  2. To partner with existing groups working to promote STEM programs that embrace both non-Indigenous and Indigenous approaches.
  3. To forge partnerships with Indigenous organizations to support Indigenous education in astronomy and STEM.
  4. To facilitate connections to funding and support for community educational projects related to Indigeneity.
  5. To foster the development of culturally appropriate astronomical learning material in Indigenous languages in collaboration with teachers and programs.
  6. To build and regularly advertise a public database of resources related to reconciliation and Indigenous engagement that can be accessed by all CASCA members. These resources include but are not restricted to Truth and Reconciliation training, and best practices for publicly and privately funded projects.
  7. To organize regular public consultations (webinars, conference sessions) of all CASCA members on specific Indigenous topics to encourage their engagement.
  8. To guide the creation of IEC committees for Canadian facilities and projects that require such an advisory council.

Respectful Engagement with Local Communities: The Square Kilometre Array

This year we heard the exciting news that Canada plans to participate in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). An important part of the Long Range Plan for astronomy is that participation in any project be “subject to a set of guiding principles for sites used by astronomy projects, centred on consent for the use of facility sites from Indigenous Peoples and traditional title holders.” The SKA project has developed a deep relationship with the local communities in South Africa and Australia where the SKA will be built. This year, in cooperation with the SKA organization, we were able to arrange for two webinars on the process of respectful engagement followed at both sites. Since the situations are very different in the two countries, we held two different webinars, one focussed on each site. These webinars were very informative and helpful for understanding the global context of this new radio telescope. The webinars were recorded, and we hope to have the videos available for CASCA members to view soon.

What Next?

LCRIC will take a summer break and start working again in September. Which Long Range Plan recommendations do you think should be our next priority? Send the chair an email if you have an opinion!

LCRIC Chair:
Sharon Morsink (University of Alberta)

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2023)

CFHT Call for Letters of Interest in MSE and MSE Pathfinder Instrument at CFHT

A Call for Letters of Interest was issued on March 17 to participate in the development of the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) through either the Design and Fabrication of an MSE-Pathfinder Instrument for CFHT for first light in the late 2020s, or the Design of MSE for first light in the late 2030s.

Submissions were due May 1. Four groups expressed interest in the MSE Pathfinder and three in MSE design study work. Discussions with respondents have begun.

The MSE-Pathfinder instrument is proposed to reduce technical risk by demonstrating on-sky the science capabilities of MSE’s primary subsystems and principal software platform while producing shared science data products for the community. In addition, MSE-Pathfinder will utilize MSE’s Program Execution System Architecture framework to validate the envisaged software platform to execute survey planning, scheduling, targeting and fiber allocation, data reduction pipelines, database management, science products archive, and “data-lab” science platform.

Funding Proposals

Results of the $6.5M Canada Foundation for Innovation funding request for wide-field spectroscopic telescope design and development work should be available before the next issue of Cassiopeia is released.

A $0.5M NSF ATI (Advanced Technology & Instrumentation) proposal was submitted in November 2022 for critical technology development for MSE spectrographs (wavelength splitting and pupil slicing) and is under review.

A $4M NSF MRI (Major Research Instrumentation) proposal was submitted Feb. 2023 and is under review, having passed an initial review phase. This proposal will be resubmitted in Nov. 2023 if unsuccessful in the current round.

If an NSF Mid-Scale Innovations Program in Astronomical Sciences (MSIP, $4M-$30M) call is made this year, a proposal to advance the MSE Pathfinder will be submitted.

An NSF Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure-1 (MSRI1, $6M-$20M range) proposal for MSE design work will be submitted Jan 2024. A similar previous proposal was well received (recommended by a review panel to go forward to the next review phase, but the panel was overruled).

MSE Project Office Staffing

Andy Sheinis has been appointed Director of Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer Programs at CFHT.

Peter Frinchaboy has been appointed as MSE Project Scientist. Peter is a Professor at Texas Christian University in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. He has served in multiple leadership roles as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) -III, -IV, and -V over the 17+ years. In SDSS-III, he served as Survey Operations Scientist for the Apache Point Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE). Peter was significantly involved with the survey planning, review, and execution of all sub-surveys of SDSS-IV (eBOSS, MaNGA, and APOGEE-2 surveys) as the SDSS-IV Survey Coordinator. He has also served as part of the SDSS Management and Collaboration committees, the Change Control Board, and the Committee On INclusion in SDSS (COINS).

Update on CASTOR

By Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2023)

The CASTOR project continues to gather momentum in preparation for flight approval and funding, as detailed below.

  1. The Phase 0 final review meeting was held at CSA HQ on May 15, where results from both the industrial and science contracts were presented. The mission is now well defined technically and scientifically, with all aspects of the fabrication and operations phases having been costed. The STDP contract, which is addressing key elements of the technical design, will conclude later this year.
  2. The CASTOR mission was presented to the NASA Astrophysics director and staff in May, emphasizing synergies with the US Decadal Priorities, and also the ongoing collaborations with JPL. JPL will meet with the directorate separately to discuss their partnership proposal.
  3. Following the successful proposal for a UK partnership in CASTOR, there was a visit to CSA of key UKSA personnel, to discuss details of the collaboration. Discussions are expected to continue throughout the summer.
  4. The Coalition for Astronomy has been briefed on the mission in two sessions. The Coalition is planning to move ahead with their formal support of CASTOR, and are preparing for a pre-budget submission later in the summer.
  5. A CASTOR lunch-hour townhall meeting was held at the CASCA annual conference, in Penticton, on May 14. Representatives from each of CASTOR’s eight science working groups briefly presented the many exciting science investigations developed during the Phase 0 study.
  6. A number of CASTOR science investigations were also presented at the S2D workshop in Montreal May 16-19. Collectively, these presentations demonstrated CASTOR’s many exciting synergies with other survey facilities, including Rubin-LSST, Euclid, Roman and SKA.
  7. Ongoing partnership discussions continue with groups in Spain, France, and South Korea, focussing on the UVMOS instrument and the launch, as well as other possibilities.
  8. The pathway to launch is being developed, including the CSA business case, a formal joint request to government by CSA and NRC, the detailed costing timeline, proposed significant international partnerships, and a 5.5 year sequence of fabrication contracts (Phases A-D). The mission is being developed for a minimum 5-year operation lifetime, with a desire to extend the science mission significantly beyond that.
  9. Several papers are in preparation describing the mission and its scientific programs based on the considerable work undertaken to date.
  10. Melissa Amenouche (PhD, Université Clermont Auvergne) has joined NRC-HAA as a postdoctoral fellow supporting CASTOR, and several graduate and undergraduate students are engaged in work directed by NRC leads. Phase 0 science support contracts to seven universities are ongoing, with significant engagement by students and postdocs. In July, Plaskett Fellow Tyrone Woods will take up a faculty position at the University of Manitoba.
  11. Preparations are under way for CASTOR detector testing at the UV Vacuum facility at the University of Calgary, supported by the electronic controller developed at NRC-HAA. Detector units developed and prepared by E2V and JPL will be available for this work in August.

For more information on the mission, see here.

Canadian Gemini Office News

By Eric Steinbring (Canadian Gemini Office, NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / 2023)

Gemini-North and New Telescope Status Pages

The G-North primary has been repaired and recoated, and now the telescope is back on sky doing science! Regular queue operations commenced the week of 5 June. And just in time for that, a new public webpage is available to provide up-to-the minute status of all available instruments (say, which GMOS gratings are currently available) and the weather in Hawai’i, the current forecast, and latest from the Maunakea seeing monitor (that is, collecting on one page the same information observers use in operating the queue). See here, and similarly for the South, with status on Cerro Pachon. Together these new status pages could be useful, for example, in time-domain observations and deciding whether, say, tonight is a good night to trigger on a Target of Opportunity – and from which telescope.

Hot New Results from MAROON-X

The G-North visitor instrument MAROON-X provides stable, very high-resolution optical spectroscopy, which has allowed investigation into the atmosphere of the super-hot exoplanet WASP-76b: a “puffed-up” gas-giant that orbits about 12 times closer than Mercury is to the Sun. A team led by Stefan Pelletier at the Université de Montréal found, by capturing it in eclipse, that this planet has an atmosphere containing rock-forming elements: sodium, potassium, lithium, nickel, manganese, chromium, magnesium, vanadium, barium, calcium, and iron. These would all be in the form of rocks on Earth, but are vapourized in this atmosphere of 2000 Celsius. And excitingly, it is also the first-ever unambiguous detection of vanadium oxide on an exoplanet, a molecule acting something like how ozone does on Earth. The NOIRLab press release and link to the paper in Nature is available here.

Update on GHOST

The Gemini High Resolution Optical SpecTrograph is the newest facility instrument at G-South, for echelle spectroscopy in either two-object standard-resolution (R~55,000) mode or single-object, high-resolution (R~80,0000) mode. It underwent a successful System Verification phase in April/May, with data now publicly available. Already science results are coming out, with the first paper submitted by the team led by Herzberg Fellow Christian Hayes: “Identifying a new chemically peculiar star in Reticulum II”, also reported on at CASCA in Penticton. Check out the SV webpage for more information. Note that there will be a Special Call for GHOST time, as a shared-risk opportunity, to come by early September. The GHOST SV webpage will be your portal for that announcement, and all the details, so keep checking back there for the latest news.

Fast Turnaround

Two things are special about this month’s Call for FT proposals: First, as mentioned above, Gemini-North is back, and will be fully available for requests of FT programs once again. And second, just about half the usual time for Gemini-South FT programs is not, being held for the Special Call for shared-risk GHOST proposals; that’s to come in the November through January cycle. All the resources of G-North are available for some part of this cycle, including Altair, GMOS-N, GNIRS, NIFS, NIRI, MAROON-X, GRACES and Alopeke; and similar for G-South, including GMOS-S, F2 (even with MOS), IGRINS and Zorro. GMOS-S will not be available in July, as its bad detector is being swapped out. Otherwise, this is just the usual reminder, like every month, to consider applying for a Fast Turnaround program: maybe it’s a new idea you’ve had that you can’t wait to test out, or you need only a little data to complete a program, or something else that needn’t wait for the full-blown regular semester Call. This is a way to get those data in hand quickly.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2023)

Participants at the New Eyes on the Universe: SKA and ngVLA conference, held in Vancouver from 1-5 May 2023. Image credit: NRAO and SKAO.

Some of the most important developments for Canada and the SKA in the history of the project have taken place in recent months.   Following the Canadian government announcing its intention to seek full SKA Observatory (SKAO) membership in January 2023 and in addition to the $13.2M already committed through the 2021 cooperation agreement between SKAO and NRC, Budget 2023 provided $269.3M over the next 8 years as well as ongoing funding for the SKA. This major announcement and funding commitment will provide Canada with scientific, technological and governance rights in the SKA project, consistent with the community’s recommendations for SKA participation in the Canadian Astronomy Long-Range Plan 2020-2030 (LRP2020). This marks the start of an exciting new era for Canadian astronomy.

Science and Technology Update

The 6% SKA use-share being sought will provide Canadian astronomers with significant access to observing time and compute resources, enabling discoveries and leadership across the broad range of scientific areas in which the SKA will have impact. Major anticipated science milestones during construction include:

  • The first data from scientifically competitive arrays (Array Assembly 2 = AA2) and the kickoff of Key Science Project planning in 2026;
  • shared-risk observations with AA* staged-delivery facilities in 2028, as a stepping stone to the SKA Design Baseline (= AA4).

In preparation for upcoming SKA data and in recognition of its potential synergy with the NRAO-led ngVLA that is currently being planned, the New Eyes on the Universe: SKA and ngVLA scientific conference was held in Vancouver from 1-5 May 2023. With nearly 300 participants in person and online, it is the first international conference with an SKA focus held in Canada for several years. Contributions highlighted areas in which scientific breakthroughs will most likely result from access to both observatories, as well as complementarities in operations and data management, and served to build excitement for both facilities and foster collaboration between them.

Canada’s 6% participation level also provides economic return on investment through the allocation of technical workshares to Canadian industry, including the leadership of the SKA-Mid Correlator/Beamformer (MID-CBF) and contributions to SKA-Mid digitiser development and low-noise amplifier (LNA) procurement. Related technical contributions are already being made through the 2021 cooperation agreement between the SKAO and NRC, which has been extended through March 2024 and will be expanded in size and scope to include additional contributions through the completion of the membership process.

Canadian SKA Regional Centre (SRC-CA) Update

The Budget 2023 funding includes a significant investment to build a Canadian SKA Regional Centre (SRC-CA). SRC-CA will include a node in the federated global SRC network (SRCNet) that will provide user data access, support, and archive services through a science platform that is developed, deployed, and maintained by CADC using Digital Research Alliance of Canada hardware and CANARIE network services. This framework builds on the (CANARIE-funded) Canadian Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) as well as the (CFI-funded) Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA). The goal is to have a basic prototype by the end of this calendar year that is developed in coordination with the SCRNet Steering Committee (SRCSC), on which Séverin Gaudet (NRC-HAA, SRC-CA lead).   SRC-CA will also include tailored support for the Canadian community in partnership with universities across the country; it is envisioned as a distributed hub of Canadian SKA activity that fosters research excellence and inclusion.

A cornerstone of the university-NRC partnership that will underpin SRC-CA will be the SKA Canada Fellowships. This new, permanent program will consist of an NRC-funded network of 8-10 fixed-term research fellows and faculty mentors at Canadian universities. Fellows will carry out independent research in astrophysics with faculty mentorship at the institution where they hold the fellowship, and will also make wide-ranging contributions to SRC-CA under the supervision and mentorship of NRC-HAA staff. Researchers in any field of expertise related to astrophysics will be welcome to apply. Following discussions with and recommendations from the ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA (AACS) on an initial framework for the program,  NRC will develop the administrative details of the program through the summer with the goal of advertising a competition for the first round of fellowships in the fall.

Canadian Membership Update

The steps necessary to complete Canada’s  SKA Observatory (SKAO) membership process are now well underway. The accession agreement between our government and SKAO has been finalized, and a formal request to accept Canada as a Member State has been made to the SKAO Council that governs the project. Canada’s official transition from its current status as a Council Observer to that of a Member State is anticipated for early 2024, following a treaty signing ceremony, the tabling of the SKAO Convention in Parliament, and the submission of the Instrument of Accession to the UK Foreign Office.

Each SKAO Member State has two representatives on the SKAO Council. When accession is complete, Canada’s voting representative will be an NRC employee, while the second representative is likely to be selected by NRC in consultation with the ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA (AACS). The current Canadian SKAO Council Observers are Luc Simard (NRC-HAA Director General) and Michael Rupen (NRC-HAA Director of Radio Astronomy R&D). The Canadian observer of the Council Finance Committee is Morrick Vincent (NRC-HAA Director of Operations), while Kristine Spekkens (RMC/Queen’s, Canadian SKA Science Director) is Canada’s representative on (and vice-chair of) the Council’s Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC).

Broader Impacts Update

Delivering benefits to society while building and operating cutting-edge radio telescopes is key to the mission of the SKAO, and includes building partnerships with Indigenous and local communities at the remote telescope sites. This spring, LCRIC organised webinars regarding the ongoing process of respectful engagement with Indigenous peoples and local communities near each of the SKA sites. CASCA members were fortunate to hear presentations from individuals in Australia (13 Feb 2023 webinar) and South Africa (4 April 2023 webinar) who are directly involved in these efforts, followed by ample time for questions and discussion. In addition, the New Eyes on the Universe conference in Vancouver (1-5 May 2023) included a session focussed on broader impacts from the SKA and ngVLA, featuring speakers from the SKAO, NRAO, and the IAU’s North American Regional Office of  Astronomy for Development (NA-ROAD). Permission is being sought from our international partners to make recordings of these presentations available to CASCA members. The SKAO and its partners continue to build on these initiatives across the lifetime of the project, and related efforts in Canada will benefit from the expertise of a full-time EDI/EPO coordinator funded through our SKA commitment.

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