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COM DEV completes instrument destined for James Webb Space Telescope

COM DEV International Ltd. announced that it has completed work on the instrument it designed and built for the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.


The two-in-one instrument, which is Canada’s contribution to the Webb program, will serve to point the telescope precisely, allowing it to peer into the distant Universe, and study stars and planets in other stellar systems.  The instrument has been accepted by COM DEV’s customer, the Canadian Space Agency, and is set to be shipped to NASA next week for integration into the telescope.

“Our work on the James Webb Space Telescope has been one of the largest and most complex programs in our company’s history,” said Michael Pley, CEO of COM DEV.  “It has allowed us to develop and extend our world-class capabilities in guidance sensors and opto-mechanical design for a highly challenging environment.  It is an example of the highest standard of space engineering by our Canadian Division, done in close collaboration with our customer, the Canadian Space Agency.”

The delivery of this instrument represents the culmination of nearly nine years of work for a total contract value of $136 million.  Over 90% of that revenue has been generated since November, 2005 when COM DEV paid approximately $5 million to acquire certain assets including the space science and optical instruments operation that had contracted to work on the Webb program.

Canada is providing Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), as well as one of the telescope’s four science instruments: the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS).

      • The Fine Guidance Sensor consists of two redundant special cameras that are critical to Webb’s ability to provide sharp images.  The FGS will allow the Webb telescope to determine its position on the sky, locate its celestial targets and remain accurately pointed so that the telescope can collect high-quality data. It will guide the telescope with incredible precision, with an accuracy of one millionth of a degree.

      • The NIRISS will have unique capabilities for finding the earliest and most distant objects in the Universe’s history. It will also peer through the glare of nearby young stars to  unveil new Jupiter-like “exoplanets”. It will have the capability of detecting the thin atmosphere of small, habitable, earth-like planets and determine its chemical composition to seek water vapour, carbon dioxide and other potential biomarkers such as methane and oxygen.

Slated for launch in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The Webb telescope will examine the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang, study the formation of new stars, and seek extra-solar planetary systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. Canada’s contribution, designed, built and tested by COM DEV at its facilities inOttawa and Cambridge, Ontario, guarantees Canadian astronomers a share of observing time once the telescope launches.

“Imagine the challenge at hand here: design and deliver technology capable of unprecedented levels of precision to conduct breakthrough science on board the largest, most complex and most powerful telescope ever built,” said Steve MacLean, President of the Canadian Space Agency. “The Webb telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometres from Earth— too far to be serviced by astronauts like Hubble was. At that distance, the technology simply has to work. This is the outstanding level of excellence Canadians are capable of achieving. It’s something for all of us to be proud of.”

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