France delivers the NISP infrared spectrophotometer for the European space mission Euclid

After more than 10 years of design, manufacturing and testing, the Near Infrared SpectroPhotometer (NISP) was delivered to ESA on Monday 19 May 2020. It will be installed at the heart of the telescope of the European astrophysics mission Euclid. Equipped with the largest infrared camera ever sent into space, NISP will provide valuable information for the search for dark matter and dark energy. NISP is the result of international cooperation, coordinated by France, including Italy, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Norway, as well as the United States.

As its name indicates, the instrument has the particularity of being able to operate in two different modes: photometric and spectroscopic. Specifically developed to meet the scientific objectives of the mission, this combination of technologies will make it possible to measure the distances of billions of galaxies very accurately, probing a large part of the history of the universe. With these measurements, scientists will be able to develop 3D maps of the universe over time, which are crucial to understanding the evolution of the universe’s major structures.

The flight model of the NISP instrument being assembled at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille ©Euclid Consortium/LAM

Roles of different French partners :

  • LAM (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille) is responsible for the instrument and ensures the project management of the instrument.
  • CPPM (Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille) and IP2I (Institut de Physique des 2 Infinis) are responsible for the characterization of the detectors and the verification of their performance.
  • CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique) supplied the cryogenic mechanisms for the filter wheels (used for the photometer) as well as the grisms, prisms one face of which forms a diffraction grating in order to allow only one wavelength of the incident light beam (used for the spectrometer) to pass through.
  • CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) is participating in the financing of the French contribution to the NISP. It provides the LAM with key resources and contributes its technical expertise on some of the NISP’s activities. In addition, CNES is responsible to ESA (European Space Agency) and other partner agencies for the provision of French contributions, including the NISP instrument.

Selected in 2011 by ESA as part of the Cosmic Vision program, the Euclid mission will be launched in 2022 from Kourou to be placed in orbit at the second point of Lagrange. This is a region of the solar system, located 1.5 million km from Earth, where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth combine, allowing a satellite to remain permanently in alignment with the two stars. This orbit is very popular for scientific missions because of the great stability of the observation conditions.

Euclid is equipped with two scientific instruments, placed behind a telescope 1.20 m in diameter: the visible imager VIS (VISible) and the near-infrared spectro-photometer NISP. During 6 years, the satellite will take pictures of billions of galaxies that scientists will analyze to detect the signatures of “dark matter” and “dark energy”.

ESA is coordinating the development of the mission, and in particular the construction of the satellite and its telescope, entrusted respectively to Thales Alenia Space Italy and Airbus Defence and Space Toulouse. The ESA member states, via their national space agencies, are responsible for building the two instruments VIS and NISP, as well as setting up the computing centres that will analyse the data obtained.

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