Press Release

ESA awards prime contract for instrument on board JWST

By SpaceRef Editor
July 29, 2004
Filed under ,

Following a competitive definition study, ESA has awarded EADS Astrium GmbH with the contract to build the Near–Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument on board the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

NIRSpec is one of the three main instruments on board JWST, a collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Although radically different in design, JWST is considered as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). With its sophisticated instrumentation, a substantial part of which is provided by ESA, JWST will mainly study the evolution of galaxies back in time to the birth of the very first stars. Nonetheless, its capabilities also make JWST an effective general-purpose observatory able to address a wide range of astrophysical topics, such as the formation of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.

NIRSpec is a 200-kilogram spectrograph able to detect the radiation from the most distant galaxies and can observe more than 100 objects simultaneously. It will be able to operate at a temperature of 35 degrees Kelvin (-238 C) to maximize its sensitivity. It will host state-of-the-art mirrors made of silicon carbide (SiC), a material with excellent properties for stable optical structures operating at cryogenic temperatures. The manufacturing process of the SiC material is a unique European technology which is also used for ESA’s Herschel mission.

Other components of the instrument (such as filter and grating selection mechanisms) are based on the heritage from ESA’s Infrared Space Observatory mission. The mechanisms for the selection of multi-object targets (micro-shutter array) and the infrared detectors are all supported on an SiC optical bench and are NASA’s contribution to NIRSpec.

The contract between ESA and EADS Astrium GmbH for the NIRSpec implementation phase will conclude in March 2009 with the delivery of the fully tested and calibrated instrument ready for flight. The launch of JWST is scheduled for mid-2011.

Note to editors

Besides EADS Astrium GmbH, the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France, the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany, EADS Astrium SAS and Boostec, both of France, are part of the chosen core team in charge of the instrument development.

The JWST observatory will consist of a deployable telescope (6.6 metres in diameter) optimised for infrared wavelengths. It will carry three main scientific instruments: a near-infrared camera (NIRCam), a near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec, funded by ESA) and a combined mid-infrared camera/spectrograph (MIRI, equally funded by ESA and NASA). In addition to NIRSpec and MIRI, ESA is contributing to JWST by the provision of the Ariane 5 launcher, which will place the observatory in orbit around the second Lagrangian Point, called ‘L2’, which is the anti-Sun equilibrium point, 1.5 million kilometres behind Earth as viewed from the Sun.

For more information contact:

Science Programme Communication Service

European Space Agency

Tel: +31 71 565 3273

E-mail: ibruckne @

ESA Media Relations Division

Paris, France

Tel: +33 1 5369 7155

Fax: +33 1 5369 7690

SpaceRef staff editor.