Projects

We are currently working on a number of research projects.

Herschel-SPIRE

We are the lead investigators for the Herschel Space Observatory's Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE). Built by an international consortium of 18 institutions, SPIRE was one of three scientific instruments that flew on a European Space Agency mission between 2009 and 2013.

The SPIRE instrument contained an imaging photometer (camera) and an imaging spectrometer. The camera operated in three wavelength bands centred on 250, 350 and 500 µm, and made images of the sky simultaneously in these three submillimetre “colours”. The spectrometer covered the range 200 – 670 µm, allowing the spectral features of atoms and molecules to be measured.

The mission produced a wealth of scientific findings that are still being analysed today, with almost 2,000 refereed scientific publications having referenced its data.

Planck-High Frequency Instrument

We were key contributors to the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), part of the European Space Agency's Planck Surveyor satellite, which was launched in 2009 and turned off in 2013. The HFI used 48 bolometric detectors, divided into six frequency bands, to measure the polarisation of incoming radiation.

Our role was to develop and test the cold optics that coupled the bolometric detectors to the telescope, to integrate the optics with the HFI's bolometric detectors and to assemble and calibrate all the detection assemblies onto the cold plates.

The HFI collaboration involved institutions in nine countries, and its data is still being analysed to contribute to scientific research around the world.

EChO

The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory (EChO) will be the first dedicated space mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres, addressing the suitability of those planets for life and placing our Solar System in context. We are members of an international consortium which proposed and studied EChO as the third Medium-class mission in European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme. EChO was selected as the successful candidate mission by the ESA from a field of five in 2014.

EChO will provide high resolution, multi-wavelength spectroscopic observations. It will measure the atmospheric composition, temperature and albedo of a representative sample of known exoplanets, constrain models of their internal structure and improve our understanding of how planets form and evolve. It will orbit around the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth in the anti-sunward direction.

Our involvement in EChO is supported by the UK Space Agency.

SPACEKIDS

The purpose of the SPACEKIDS project is to develop and demonstrate the capabilities and the suitability of Kinetic Inductance Detectors for use in future space science and Earth observing missions working at far infrared to millimetre wavelengths.

Kinetic Indctance Detectors are still a relatively new technology, but their manufacturing methods and operating techniques have already been shown to have groundbreaking applications. SPACEKIDS will continue to develop this exciting technology and progress it towards being implemented in space missions.

This project is a collaboration between Cardiff University, QMC Instruments, and research and industry partners in the Netherlands, France and Spain.

FISICA

The Far Infrared Space Interferometer Critical Assessmen project (FISICA) is an EU-funded project reviewing and updating the science case for a European-led far-infrared interferometer, based on the most recent results of the Herschel and Planck space missions, and the ground-based ALMA interferometer.

The far infrared (FIR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum is essential to study processes that are obscured at shorter wavelengths by cosmic dust. This includes the formation of stars and planetary systems, the active star-forming stages in the evolution of galaxies, and the environments of massive black holes as they grow at the centre of active galaxies. Ultimately, a space-borne far-infrared interferometer can give the necessary combination of high sensitivity, wide spectral coverage and good angular resolution to make these observations in sufficient detail.

Our partners in FISICA include University College London, other UK universities and institutions in France, Ireland, Italy and Canada.

NIKA

The Neel IRAM kinetic inductance array (NIKA) is a collaboration between several European partners to build the next generation, large format millimeter camera for the IRAM 30m telescope.  Led by the Neel Institute in Grenoble, the project includes collaborators from other British and French universities, as well as institutions in France and Italy.

The camera will consist of three arrays of detectors - one 1000 pixel array observing at 2.1mm and two polarisation sensitive 4000 pixel arrays observing at 1.2mm. To meet the demanding detector requirements of this project, NIKA will use the Lumped Element Kinetic Inductance Detectors (LEKIDs). We were pioneers of LEKIDs, and we are now responsible for LEKID design specific to the NIKA project. We are also responsible for providing various optical components to the NIKA project such as filters and anti-reflection coated lenses.

TES Bolometers

Transition Edge Superconducting (TES) detectors have the potential to achieve performance levels far beyond those achieved with the bolometric detectors of Planck and Herschel. We are collaborating with the Cambridge University Detector Physics Group and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, on a European Space Agency-funded programme to advance this TES technology to a level where it can be considered as mature and therefore offer a credible detector capability for future FIR astronomy missions.

Key issues that are being explored in this research work are:

  • An understanding of the physics of the TES devices to identify the sensitivity limits that are possible and to consider issues such as response time, optical efficiency, and spectral response.
  • Detailed electromagnetic and optical modelling to establish optimum designs for coupling the telescope power onto the pixels. To this end we are exploring the use of individual horn feeds for the detectors and how best to arrange absorbers on the detectors.
  • Development of fabrication and packaging technologies for the horn plates, which is crucial to this concept which needs to be scalable to provide efficient coupling for detector arrays of ~1000 pixels.
  • Strategies to control straylight and protect the ultra-sensitive elements from electromagnetic interference (EMI).
  • A range of optical measurements, in both low and high background radiant backgrounds, to characterise the spectral and spatial response and to measure the performance parameters of these ultrasensitive arrays.

This project is funded by the European Space Agency Core Technology Programme.