Update on CASTOR

By / par John Hutchings, Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

The UKSA and CSA have signed a bilateral agreement that includes CASTOR. Funds have been already approved and are being used for UK science definition, detector testing, and development work on data flows and optics. On May 13-14, a UKSA delegation visited CSA, Montreal universities and Honeywell Aerospace, and then hosted a reception in Ottawa. UK-led science definition work focuses on TDAMM, galaxies, near-field cosmology and solar system science; an initial coordination meeting between the Canadian and UK science teams was held on June 13.

The final review meeting of the three-year Space Technology Development Program contract, led by ABB, was held on May 16. This contract elevated the TRLs for several technically challenging mission components, with significant work done on the opto-mechanical design, the Focal Plane Arrays, the Fast Steering mirror prototyping, the precision photometer, grism, and UVMOS. After many months, formal export licences to share these details with the UK and LAM partners have been approved.

The NRC internal “Small Teams” proposal to develop the UVMOS has been approved. This will provide some $2M over three years to perform technical work at HAA, in collaboration with partners at LAM (Marseille), LASP (Colorado), and the University of Calgary, as well as contracted work at the University of Manitoba. A kick-off meeting was held recently to initiate these exciting activities.

The CASCA AGM featured half of a shared ACURA town hall meeting on June 4. This event featured short presentations by the CASTOR team, industry, the Coalition and CSA, plus time for questions and discussions.

The Coalition lobbying activities are continuing, including quasi-regular meetings with government and opposition personnel. Coalition members also plan to meet with the CSA and NRC presidents. Although CASTOR was not listed in the federal budget, neither were TMT and SKA in previous years.

An ISSF (Inuvik Satellite Station Facility) optical ground station proposal is in early development by U Manitoba and Natural Resources Canada. This could potentially add an important high-latitude, high-speed downlink capability for CASTOR’s polar orbit.

Work is progressing towards the testing and characterization of the JPL-Te2v processed CIS120 detectors at UV wavelengths. The readout and control electronics for these devices are being developed at HAA, while vacuum facilities are being readied and staffed at HAA and the University of Calgary. This is an important step towards the development of flight detectors. Regular meetings are held with JPL, Te2v, and the UK Open University to discuss and coordinate these activities.

The development of various science planning tools continues, with several FORECASTOR papers published, submitted or in preparation. Co-op student Michelle Kao (Waterloo) recently completed a work term (hosted by U Manitoba and Magellan Aerospace) to develop a multi-mission task scheduler: this tool will be used to investigate and optimize survey scheduling. Wasi Naqvi(UBC Okanagan) recently started at co-op term at HAA to simulate the in-orbit performance of CASTOR’s expected flight detectors with ESA’s advanced Pyxel software. These simulations will support the detector testing programs underway at HAA, Calgary, Teledyne-e2v and Open University.

Plans are being developed with CSA to define Phase A statement-of-work items (or a dedicated subset for an earlier contract, depending on CASTOR funding). CSA-NRC joint agreements on funding and planning shared activities is also in detailed negotiation. The final negotiation of all international partnerships still awaits government approval of the mission.

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

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