Researchers one step closer to developing Canada’s next space telescope

Researchers at Western University and Bishop’s University are the recipients of $1.1 million to develop what could become Canada’s next space telescope mission.

The funding from the Canadian Space Agency will support the development of a telescope prototype by Stanimir Metchev, Canada Research Chair in Extrasolar Planets at Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration, and Jason Rowe, Canada Research Chair in Exoplanetary Astrophysics in Bishop’s department of physics and astronomy.

If the project goes as planned, the Photometric Observations of Extrasolar Transits mission (POET as it is provisionally titled) could be in orbit, characterizing known extrasolar planets, or perhaps even discovering Earth-like exoplanets, by 2026.

The Canadian Astronomical Society recently published a 10-year report that includes endorsement of a new Canadian space telescope mission.

Stanimir Metchev

Stanimir Metchev

“The proposed mission to detect and study extrasolar planets received high ranking in the small-mission category, and could be Canada’s next space telescope,” said Metchev, co-principal investigator of the project.

Unlike the Hubble Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, which are collaborations between different space agencies, POET would be entirely Canadian-funded and Canadian-built.

The two main goals of the POET mission are to measure the extent and composition of the atmosphere of extrasolar planets closely orbiting their stars, and to detect Earth-like, potentially-habitable planets around the nearest, dimmest and coolest stars, which offer the best chance of detecting signs of possible life on other planets.

The University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory (UTIAS-SFL) would provide the spacecraft, and ABB Canada the telescope and control systems for POET.

“We are very pleased to see the Canada Space Agency support this project through their Science and Technology Program, along with ABB Canada and the UTIAS-SFL,” said Rowe, project principal investigator. “A new Canadian space telescope would be an invaluable tool to discover even more about the many planetary systems that have been discovered beyond our own solar system in recent years.”

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