Olé! Spain delivers Integral's first science instrument
11 October 2000At a formal handover in Madrid on 10 October, ESA's Integral project has taken delivery the flight-model of the gamma-ray observatory's Optical Monitor Camera (OMC) from Spain's Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial (INTA). In two weeks, prime contractor Alenia will start installing the camera on the spacecraft. Integral's Proton launch is set for April 2002.
The ceremony hosted by INTA Director General Fernando Cascales took place in Torrejon de Ardoz on the outskirts of the Spanish capital. The INTA facility is next to the country's main airforce base whose exceptionally long runway can be used for Shuttle emergency landings. Proceedings were punctuated by the roar of jets overhead.
After signing official documents, ESA's Integral project manager Kai Clausen expressed his great satisfaction. "It is a very happy moment for us. For a long time, we have been troubled by payload development problems and we have had to change the launch date twice. Now, the Optical Monitor Camera is arriving as the very first instrument, fully qualified. It is the result of much hard work by the Spanish team, backed by the very active contribution of Spanish industry and the country's authorities who have decisively supported the project."
Responding, Secretary of State for Defence Diaz Moreno stressed the importance of Spanish involvement in Integral. "For the first time on an ESA mission with the OMC, we have a Spanish Principal Investigator, Dr.Alvaro Gimenez, and in all other scientific instruments we participate with Spanish co-investigators. On previous ESA missions our country's contribution was only 3-5%. With Integral we have reached 15%."
Diaz Moreno outlined INTA's increasing role in civil research and the country's space and research development programme, decided last year, which has made space activities one of Spain's 12 national priorities.
Alvaro Gimenez replying to questions from the Spanish press explained ESA's gamma-ray mission which will be pursuing the investigation of the high energy universe, with even more powerful telescopes, as with XMM-Newton in the X-ray domain. The OMC, he explained, was indispensable to locate and examine these sources at several wavelengths. The camera with its 5x5° field of view will be able to pin-point visible sources down to a 18.2 magnitude with a precision of 6 arcsec.
For Eva Diaz, INTA project manager for the OMC, the delivery of the instrument is the culmination of five years efforts, harnessing the different contributions with a tight schedule. 80% of the camera is Spanish-made, with most hardware, electronics and software being supplied in-house by INTA. Testing has taken place at INTA and at CSL (Centre Spatial de Liège) in Belgium.
INTA's principal partners on the OMC have been the UK's Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) which supplied the camera's 1-million pixel CCD detectors and the readout electronics, and the University of Liège in Belgium with OIP (Optronic Instruments and Products) producing the telescope's 5cm optical lens.
The official handover had been preceeded by the Delivery Review Board for the flight model of the OMC. Two days of very detailed technical discussions examined for instance the instrument's final scientific performance results - all well within the specifications - and any open questions including the logistics of transporting the instrument to Alenia's Turin facilities. "We are giving you our baby" sighed Eva Diaz, only to be reassured by ESA's Kai Clausen. "Have no worry, one of your compatriots, Eliseo Balaguer, our Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) manager, will be keeping a watchful eye!"
The OMC is in fact only part of the Spanish contribution to the Integral mission. The University of Valencia is providing the coded masks (manufacturered by Sener) for the IBIS gamma-ray imager and the Jem-X X-ray monitor. "It was not so evident 5 years ago that Spain could assume such responsibilities" commented Victor Reglero of the University of Valencia and overseeing the overall Spanish participation. "Our scientific involvement in Integral is the equivalent to the total of all Spanish participation in previous ESA missions during the last ten years".
The Integral Payload Status Review, held on 4 October heard that all instrument development is on schedule and and confirmed the launch target of 22 April 2002. The next instruments to be delivered will be IBIS (next January), Jem-X (March 2001) and the gamma-ray spectrometer SPI (April 2001).
Meanwhile Integral Project scientist Chris Winkler is preparing to issue the formal Announcement of Opportunity on 1 November. "We already have a very good initial response to our Call for Letters of Intent for observing proposals. Some 250 astronomers world-wide with a total of 700 proposals have expressed their interest in obtaining observation time with our new gamma-ray observatory."