Spaceflight Insider

NASA detectors delivered for ESA’s Euclid spacecraft

Euclid spacecraft

This artist’s concept shows ESA’s Euclid spacecraft, to which NASA is contributing. Image and Caption Credit: ESA/C. Carreau/NASA

NASA delivered three detector systems for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ground-breaking Euclid mission to study dark matter and dark energy. The NASA detectors are key components for the spacecraft’s near-infrared spectrometer and photometer (NISP), one of two instruments that will be carried by Euclid. The other instrument is a visible-light imager (VIS) and both instruments will collect measurements simultaneously thanks to a special light-splitting plate inside Euclid.

“The delivery of these detector systems is a milestone for what we hope will be an extremely exciting mission, the first space mission dedicated to going after the mysterious dark energy,” said Michael Seiffert, the NASA Euclid project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. NISP is being procured by JPL and were manufactured by Teledyne Imaging Sensors of Camarillo, California.

A Euclid NISP detector.

Euclid NISP detector. Photo Credit: CPPM

Dark matter and dark energy are both invisible phenomena that scientists believe make up the majority of the mass and energy of the universe. In this case, “dark” is not a reference to their color but rather that their existence is only suggested and they have not been directly observed. Scientists have inferred their existence for many years by the effect their presence has on other aspects of the universe. Euclid will seek to better understand these phenomena.

Euclid is scheduled to launch in 2020 from the European spaceport in French Guiana on a Soyuz ST 2-1b launch vehicle, arriving at its final orbit at the second Lagrange point, or L2. From this perspective, it will be directed to observe billions of faint galaxies using NISP and VIS to build a census of the entire extragalactic sky – the half of the sky that does not contain stars from within the Milky Way galaxy.

The census will help scientists to gain a better understanding of both why the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace (an effect of dark energy) and how distant galaxies are distributed and clustered throughout space (an effect of dark matter).

The gravitational impact of dark matter can cause light traveling from distant galaxies to bend, which will provide astronomers with important information about the structure and behavior of dark matter. Additionally, studying the light emitted from distant galaxies in infrared using NISP will enable astronomers to detect a red or blue shift in their light, which reveal if a galaxy is moving away from us or closer to us.

Galaxies that appear redder are traveling away from us, whereas galaxies that appear blue are traveling toward us. A similar technique was utilized during the Twentieth Century and led to the theory of an expanding universe by way of the Big Bang.

“The U.S. Euclid team has overcome many technical hurdles along the way, and we are delivering superb detectors that will enable the collection of unprecedented data during the mission,” said Ulf Israelsson, the NASA Euclid project manager, based at JPL.

The next set of detectors is expected to be delivered to ESA by early June. Further characterization of the detector systems will be provided by the Centre de Physique de Particules de Marseille, France, before being assembled and integrated with the rest of NISP for further instrument tests.

 

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Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.

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