Update on CASTOR

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

CASTOR continues to move forward to fulfil its ranking as the top LRP2020 priority for space astronomy. The following steps have been taken in the past quarter.

  1. The substantial technical (STDP) contract is in final stages of being signed, and is expected to kick off officially by early April. The work will advance vital mission technology and retire risks in a) advancing the opto-mechanical design for the 1m off-axis wide-field telescope; b) designing and testing the large focal plane array concept with flight-like detectors; c) lab-testing the proposed fast-steering mirror for fine guiding; d) incorporating and adding detectors to the multi-slit spectrograph in design in India; and e) developing the concept for bright-star precision photometry of exoplanet transits. The work will be in close partnership with the Indian and JPL teams.
  2. Formal discussions are now under way between CSA and ISRO on a joint mission. The agreed concept is that of CASTOR, and an initial proposed split of the hardware and operation responsibilities has been agreed, subject to more detailed discussions. Along with the anticipated detector involvement by JPL, this will form the basis of a Canada-led proposal for funding from the government. ISRO will work in close step in a proposed schedule that will see CASTOR launched in late 2027.
  3. Plans are evolving for involving the Universities via ACURA, consultation with the government via the Coalition, and outreach activities within the CASTOR science team. CASTOR will have a town-hall event (on Thursday May 13) at the upcoming virtual CASCA Annual Meeting. Talks have been given by CASTOR team members at meetings in UK and India.
  4. CSA is on track to approve and begin a phase 0 study in parallel with the technical contract work, to refine costs and detail moving into a funded phase A-E sequence to take CASTOR to launch and operation.

This year will be an important one in defining the partnership and pitching the mission to government. With its wide range of science capability, it will be a major facility for the astronomy community, and those interested in joining in are encouraged. In particular, there exist numerous opportunities for student participation; for more information, students are encouraged to attend the CASCA town hall session and/or the CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminar) talk in June, which will be dedicated to CASTOR.

More information on the mission may be found here.

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