Canada shells out an additional $2.6m for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

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Canada has upped its contribution towards NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope by another $2.6 million, which is on top of the $160 million which the government has already shelled out in support of the space telescope.

NASA’s next great space-based observatory which will be a successor to the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and is due for in 2018 is greater than the size of a school gymnasium.

Tasked with the job of observing the most distant objects in the universe, study planets around distant stars and provide images of the first galaxies ever formed, the James Webb Space Telescope will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide, including Canadians, over the coming decades, including helping them to determine if there are other planets capable of supporting life.

The announcement of the additional funding was made by Canada’s Industry Minister James Moore and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Jeremy Hansen at the Elgin Street Public School where they talked about Canada’s proud history in space and the future of space exploration.

The investment will help integrate Canadian instruments into the telescope and directly support all test activities with the instruments in preparation for the telescope’s launch in October 2018.

The telescope won’t be orbiting the Earth, but instead will stay at a point called L2 hovering at a constant distance from Earth. This point is 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, and the telescope will always be directly away from the sun. The telescope will be stationary at the point thanks to gravity from the Earth, sun and moon and orbital dynamics.

According to Hansen, once it reaches this particular “parking spot”, it will remain very cold thanks to a shield that blocks direct sunlight and earthlight keeping its instruments cold — about 225 Celsius degrees below zero.

“We can see through things like dust by using infrared light,” said Hansen. “There’s one thing that is very cool that we can do with this infrared. We can use it to look for other planets.”

Through the Webb telescope has been a highly anticipated one, it has had its fair share of controversies as well. Its initial launch was to happen in 2011 and the estimated cost was $1.6 billion, but NASA missed out on the launch and with nearly 6 times the original cost at $8.8 billion, the telescope will launch in 2018.

Canada is contributing the Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) science instruments. This contribution guarantees Canadian astronomers a share of observing time on the telescope.