Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Contents

Foreword and Farewell

Ongoing Missions

JWST
ASTROSAT
Ariel
NEOSSat
XRISM
BRITE

Future Missions

CASTOR
LiteBIRD

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

Consultations

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.

Ariel

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

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.

BRITE

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

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.

LiteBIRD

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.

Consultations

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.

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Wishing everyone a wonderful summer!

Denis Laurin

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