NRC Herzberg News

By Dennis Crabtree, Director Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (acting) & Optical Astronomy Program Leader (acting)
with contributions from Alan McConnachie, James Hesser, Gary Hovey, Gordon Lacy, Kei Szeto

These reports will appear in each issue of E-Cass with the goal of informing the Canadian astronomical community on the activities at NRC Herzberg.

Feedback is welcome from community members about how NRC Herzberg is doing in fulfilling our mandate to “operate and administer any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada” (NRC Act).

Cyber Intrusion at NRC

On 29 July, NRC announced that it had detected and confirmed a cyber intrusion on its IT infrastructure. NRC took steps to protect its information and the information of its clients and stakeholders by isolating its information holdings and shutting down servers including several at NRC Herzberg, that contained sensitive information.

We were able to implement some important workarounds to keep the majority of our services running. NRC Herzberg expects to be able to resume normal activities by the middle of October.

Return of Public Outreach to DAO

Efforts initiated in summer 2013 by community groups bore fruit. Groups distressed by the closure of the public outreach program operated at the Centre of the Universe facility on Observatory Hill worked with NRC to restore some outreach activities for summer 2014. This was spurred by on-line petitions organized by Don Moffatt (an interpreter at DAO in the 1990s) and by MLA Lana Popham, in whose riding the DAO is located. Last November MLA Popham organized at DAO a critical meeting of community representatives, in which NRC VP Dan Wayner participated with Greg Fahlman and Jim Hesser. This created the atmosphere for productive discussions with Observatory and NRC management that ultimately led to two, highly successful, pilot projects to re-introduce astronomy-themed education and public outreach during summer 2014.

NRC facilitated access for the University of Victoria’s Science Venture (SV) program to the Centre of the Universe building for weekly astronomy and space science camps for students in grades 3-5 (5 sessions) and 6-8 (3 sessions) in July and August. These camps were in addition to SV’s regular summer programming on campus, and represented a bold initiative to set up a pilot program off campus. 144 of the 185 available spaces (78%) were filled (with girls being 24% of the total). SV’s program director Melisa Yestrau observes, “We had incredible feedback from parents and campers about the venue and programming.”

RASC members setting up their personal telescopes for public view on the last public observing session for 2014 (6 September). (Photo: J. Hesser)

RASC members setting up their personal telescopes for public view on the last public observing session for 2014 (6 September). (Photo: J. Hesser)

Similarly, NRC entered a pilot agreement with the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to take responsibility for public viewing on seven Saturday nights July through early September. RASC exercised full responsibility for programming and interacting with the public, while NRC provided Commissionaires for overall site security and access control, an experienced operator for the Plaskett Telescope, and trained four RASC members to operate the Plaskett safely. RASC volunteers operated their personal telescopes for night viewing, as well as provided all the tours in the Plaskett dome. 2202 members of the public participated, with reactions being very enthusiastic. Don Moffatt’s and Lana Popham’s continued strong support was evident through their participation throughout the summer. In addition, Don arranged for flautist Martina Peladeau and guitarist Ian Bezpalko each to provide lovely music in the Plaskett dome at the beginning of more than half the evenings.

We’ll be gathering the lessons learned and looking at what they portend for 2015, but enthusiasm among the two community groups to continue upon their 2014 successes already seems apparent.

15m Dish Verification Antenna (DVA1)

NRC’s SKA Dish Verification Antenna 1

NRC’s SKA Dish Verification Antenna 1

The NRC has begun testing its 15m Dish Verification Antenna (DVA1) a novel prototype for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The antenna is optimised for mass production, low cost and high performance – key requirements for SKA antennas. The antenna is an offset Gregorian design developed in collaboration with the US Technology Development Program (US-TDP). A key innovation is the rim supported primary and secondary reflectors that are a carbon fibre composite monocoques design developed at the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, near Penticton. The reflectors are made in a single piece on a precision mold using the vacuum infusion process yielding a precise reflector that can be mass produced with low overall cost.

The primary and secondary have been measured and are within 0.89 mm and 0.2 mm of ideal. Using better molds the NRC team has demonstrated that these errors can be halved yielding reflectors that operate to 20+ GHz and are very stable over temperature, wind and gravity loads compared to conventional approaches.

First Light on the Sun @ 11.75 to 13.25 GHz

First Light on the Sun @ 11.75 to 13.25 GHz

Testing of the DVA1 is well underway. First light at Ku band on the Sun was achieved at the beginning of August, with holography, pointing and antenna temperature measurements to be completed this fall.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE)

The Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE, formerly ngCFHT) continues to make important progress as it begins a Construction Proposal Phase that will last approximately 3.5 years, and which is led by the newly formed Project Office. Important progress in the last few months includes:

  • the formation of a Science Team, currently with over 60 members including 10 members from Canada, as well as members from Australia, China, France, Hawaii, India, Japan, mainland USA and elsewhere. August saw the start of science team activities, with White Papers solicited to provide new input to the science development.
  • the formation of a Science Executive with Contact Scientists from Australia (Andrew Hopkins), Canada (Michael Balogh), France (Nicolas Martin), India (Gajendra Pandey), with other partner countries soon to have representation. This group provides leadership of the science team in collaboration with the Project Scientist (Alan McConnachie).
  • the ranking of MSE in the top priority bracket for development in the first draft of France’s new 5-year Prospective (roughly equivalent to their LRP). MSE and CFHT remain engaged in the ongoing development of the Prospective.
  • establishment of much of the basic infrastructure required to operate the Project Office, with headquarters in Waimea.
  • exploration of permitting issues and options for MSE consistent with the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan.
  • visits and important discussions with our colleagues in China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Japan regarding partnership engagement in the future development of CFHT and MSE, and a planned visit to India this Fall.

Please do not hesitate to contact the following for any questions relating to MSE:

  • MSE Project Scientist (Alan McConnachie;
  • Project Manager (Rick Murowinski;
  • CFHT Executive Director (Doug Simons;

Visit the MSE website at for more information and recent news.


For the past few months, the NFIRAOS team has been working diligently to engage Canadian industry to progress the NFIRAOS’ opto-mechanical subsystems to final design level in time for the Final Design Review planned for late 2016. Eventually, Canadian industry will construct (fabricate, assemble and test) and deliver these subsystems to NRC-Herzberg for overall system integration before delivery to the TMT Observatory.

The planned out-sourced NFIRAOS subsystems, from 2014 to 2015, are:

  1. Off-Axis Paraboloids (OAP) mirrors and mounts – a total of six units are required.
  2. Beamsplitter (BS) changer with science and engineering beamsplitters, visible light BS and mounts – the science BS separates the infrared science light from the visible wavefront sensor (WFS) light and sends the science light to the client instruments. The visible light BS further separates the WFS light into laser guide star (LGS) path and visible natural WFS (VNW) path for natural guide star (NGS) wavefront sensing. The BS changer switches to the engineering BS to facilitate NFIRAOS assembly and integration.
  3. Instrument selection fold mirror (ISM), mount and rotating mechanism – the ISM reflects the infrared science light and feeds the client instruments, and the rotation mechanism directs light to the top, side and bottom instrument ports of NFIRAOS.
  4. Source simulators assembly – this contains the elements to provide artificial light sources for NGS, LGS and astrometry calibrations. The opto-mechanical components include dithering pinhole mask, deployable fold mirror for NGS sources, carriage for LGS sources, overall structural support and the associated motion control hardware.
  5. LGS path bench assembly – this contains optics, mounts and opto-mechanical mechanisms for the trombone, pickup mirrors, field stops, collimators, six optical barrels which interface with the TMT supplied detector units, overall LGS path structural support and the associated motion control hardware.
  6. VNW bench assembly – this contains optics, mounts and opto-mechanical mechanisms for the packaging fold mirrors, star selection unit, atmospheric dispersion compensator, field stop, fast steering mirrors, switchyard, and NGS optical barrel which interface with the TMT supplied detector unit, Truth wavefront sensor (TWFS) unit, overall VNW path structural support and the associated motion control hardware.
  7. High resolution wavefront sensor (HRWFS) and acquisition camera (ACQ) assembly – this contains optics, mounts and opto-mechanical mechanisms to enable high resolution wavefront sensing, low and high resolution imaging with a common detector over the full NFIRAOS field of view, and the associated motion control hardware. It also contains the overall structural support to mount the HRWFS and ACQ assembly on the side port.
  8. Turbulence generator assembly – this contains optics, mounts and opto-mechanical mechanisms to deploy the turbulence phase screen and transverse between two positions, overall structural support and the associated motion control hardware.

The opto-mechanical subsystems are illustrated in Figure 1. The total value of eight design contracts is $1.7M, ranging from $90K to $300K depending on complexity. The total value of eight construction contracts is $8.5M, ranging from $300K to $3.0M depending on complexity.


NFIRAOS opto-mechanical subsystems

NFIRAOS opto-mechanical subsystems

Each contract is divided in at least in two phases, design and construction, where the latter phase will be a binding fixed-price offer for construction after successful completion of the subsystem’s final design. A public information meeting was held on Aug 28 to discuss our out-sourcing plan with potential vendors and solicit their feedback. Six companies attended the meeting.

Meerkat Reflectors

NRC Herzberg has a contract with General Dynamics Satcom (GD Satcom) to fabricate two 4 m diameter sub-reflectors and to transfer our technology to them for the fabrication of the remaining sixty two reflectors. The first two reflectors were built in Penticton and delivered before the end of our fiscal year 2013-2014. The reflectors were fabricated in a single piece from vacuum infused carbon fibre. The reflectors both had a surface RMS of 0.1 mm; easily meeting the contract specification of 0.245 mm RMS. The reflectors represent a very light (<100 kg), very simple alternative to the traditional metal multi-piece design (they come off the mold with the correct shape and require no further adjust), and the weight savings allow a further reduction in structural support weight as well as easier handling. The next phase will involve travelling to Johannesburg South Africa to train a local team to fabricate the remaining units.

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