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.

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