Press Release

ESA and NASA sign agreement on James Webb Space Telescope and LISA Pathfinder

By SpaceRef Editor
June 18, 2007
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ESA and NASA sign agreement on James Webb Space Telescope and LISA Pathfinder

Today, at a ceremony held at the Le Bourget air-show in Paris, France, ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and NASA’s Administrator Michael Griffin signed the official agreements that define the terms of the cooperation on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and on the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder mission.

JWST is a mission of international cooperation between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to investigate the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.

Although optimised to operate over a different range of wavelengths, JWST is considered to be the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope. It is due for launch in 2013 and will operate for at least five years.

At the heart of the JWST observatory is a large telescope whose primary mirror measures 6.5 metres in diameter (compared to 2.4 metres for Hubble), providing a relatively large field of view.

A set of four sophisticated instruments (including a fine guidance sensor for precision pointing) will combine superb imaging capability at visible and infrared wavelengths, together with various spectroscopic modes to learn about the chemistry and evolution of the objects populating our Universe.

JWST will be operated well outside the Earth’s atmosphere at a point in deep space called ‘second Lagrangian point’ or ‘L2’, located at 1.5 million kilometres in the direction opposite to the sun. From this location, this powerful space observatory promises to revolutionise our view of the cosmos yet again – just as Hubble did.

According to the agreement, NASA – responsible for the overall management and operations of the JWST mission – builds the spacecraft, the telescope, and the platform that will host the instruments. ESA will provide the launch with an Ariane 5 ECA rocket.

NASA will also provide one major instrument, the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), through the University of Arizona. ESA will provide the Near-Infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) operating over similar wavelengths, with the detectors and the slit selector device provided by NASA.

The third instrument on board – the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) – is being built through a consortium of nationally funded European institutions (responsible for the MIRI optical assembly) and NASA, with coordination through ESA. The fourth instrument on board, the Fine Guidance Sensor/Tuneable Filter Imager (FGS/TFI), will be provided by the CSA.

“The signing of this agreement on JWST, based on a long-standing and consolidated cooperation between ESA and NASA, will make history once more,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain. “In particular, we are very proud to use Ariane 5 to put this great observatory into space.”

“The Hubble Space Telescope already paved the way to such cooperation, with Europe’s astronomers still playing their full part in the exploitation of Hubble’s observing time,” Dordain added.

“Europe-US’ synergy has enhanced Hubble’s scientific return and provided mutual benefits. I am confident that the ESA-NASA collaboration on JWST will repeat, if not exceed, the results of our previous joint efforts,” Mr. Dordain concluded.

“We’re delighted to have ESA’s participation on the James Webb Space Telescope,” said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. “The tremendous scientific success of the Hubble Space Telescope can be attributed to the cooperative efforts between our two agencies. We expect that, as Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Telescope also will make profound astronomical observations and discoveries. When it does, we can be proud that it too is a project based on international cooperation.”

At today’s signature ceremony, the leaders of both agencies also signed an official agreement on the ESA-initiated Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder mission, currently due for launch in early 2010. LISA Pathfinder is aimed at demonstrating the technologies needed for a planned future joint ESA-NASA mission, LISA, to detect gravitational waves in space and test the theory of General Relativity.

According to this agreement, ESA will design, develop, launch and operate the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft. A consortium of European scientific institutes will provide the LISA Technology Package (or LTP), consisting of two test-masses in a nearly perfect gravitational free-fall and a sophisticated system to measure and control their motion with unprecedented accuracy.

NASA will provide the Disturbance Reduction System Package (or DRS). The DRS, that will make use of the LTP sensors and metrology capability, is designed to test the drag-free attitude control as well. The inclusion of both the LTP and DRS packages on board will make it possible to compare and assess the performance of the two types of actuators and relevant software, in preparation for LISA.

Note to editors

The James Webb Space Telescope was formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). NASA and ESA, joined by CSA, have collaborated on JWST since 1997.

For more information

Franco Bonacina
ESA – Communication Department
Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 (0)
Fax: +33 (0)
Email: media @

ESA PIO source:
Monica Talevi
Science Information Manager
ESA – Communication Dept.
Tel: +31 71 565 3223
Fax: +31 71 565 4101

SpaceRef staff editor.