US and Europe fire up joint space projects

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US and Europe fire up joint space projects

EUROPE - Revolutionary space telescope and antenna cleared for take-off.

Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) have agreed to work hand in hand on two major forthcoming projects. 

The two agencies signed agreements on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (Lisa) Pathfinder mission during a ceremony at the Paris Airshow in Le Bourget. 

JWST involves international cooperation between Nasa, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency to investigate the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems. 

Although the new space telescope is designed to operate over a different range of wavelengths, it is considered as the successor to Hubble. JWST is due to launch in 2013 and will operate for at least five years.

Four sophisticated instruments, including a fine guidance sensor for precision pointing, will combine greatly enhanced imaging capability at visible and infrared wavelengths.

JWST will also offer spectroscopic modes to learn more about the chemistry and evolution of the objects populating our universe.

The telescope will be located well outside Earth's atmosphere at a point in deep space called the second Lagrangian point at 1.5 million kilometres in the opposite direction to the Sun.

From this location, the powerful space observatory promises to revolutionise our view of the cosmos yet again, just as Hubble did.

Nasa will have overall responsibility for the management and operation of the JWST mission, and will build the spacecraft, 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 via the University of Arizona, and ESA will provide the Near-Infrared spectrograph operating over similar wavelengths.

"The signing of this agreement on the JWST, based on longstanding and consolidated cooperation between ESA and Nasa, will once again make history," said ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin added: "The Hubble Space Telescope has paved the way for such cooperation, with Europe's astronomers continuing to play their full part in the exploitation of Hubble's observing time.

An official agreement on the ESA-initiated Lisa Pathfinder mission, currently due for launch in early 2010, was also signed at the ceremony in Paris.

Lisa Pathfinder is aimed at demonstrating the technologies needed for the planned future joint ESA/Nasa mission to detect gravitational waves in space and test Einstein's theory of general relativity.

ESA will design, develop, launch and operate the Lisa Pathfinder spacecraft, while a consortium of European scientific institutes will provide the Lisa Technology Package (LTP).

This consists of two test masses in near-perfect gravitational freefall and a sophisticated system to measure and control their motion with unprecedented accuracy.

Nasa will provide the Disturbance Reduction System (DRS) Package which will make use of the LTP sensors and metrology capability, and is designed to test drag-free attitude control.

The inclusion of the LTP and DRS packages onboard will make it possible to compare and assess the performance of the two types of actuator and relevant software, in preparation for Lisa.

The agreements follow on from the June announcement of a vision for globally co-ordinated space exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond between the world's leading space agencies.
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