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A collaboration between the University of Leicester Space Research Centre and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is about to reach a new stage as hardware built at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai is sent to Leicester for integration into an x-ray camera.

The camera will eventually be returned to India for installation into Astrosat, India’s first national astronomy satellite. The five instruments in Astrosat’s payload will observe exotic objects and phenomena such as black holes, neutron stars, and active galaxies at a number of different wavelengths simultaneously, from the ultraviolet band to energetic x-rays.

Leicester is providing the expertise and support to build the CCD camera for the Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT) on Astrosat.

Guy Peters, Astrosat Project Manager UK at the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre, explained the significance of the mission. "Each of Astrosat’s five instruments is looking at different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum which allows simultaneous measurements to be taken across a wide range of energies."

ISRO approached the University of Leicester Space Research Centre to undertake the SXT camera development because of its acclaimed track record in spacecraft design in missions such as Swift and XMM-Newton and the experience gained from its laboratory programmes leading to CCD camera designs with high resolution and sensitivity and low mass.

While the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research has built the main telescope body and mirror Leicester has provided the camera, supported the project through consultancy and will calibrate and integrate the camera at the Space Research Centre.

This sharing of experience is a significant part of the Astrosat project, Guy Peters feels. "Here in Leicester we are a young team gaining experience on a major project. Astrosat has provided a really exciting opportunity for the team."

Guy has found Astrosat a fascinating project, not just scientifically but culturally. "Although on paper we seem to work the same way, the operation in India has a very relaxed feeling, less pressured than working with other agencies, and yet things can get done just as quickly."

Due to be launched in 2008, Astrosat is well through its development phase and has just completed a highly successful preliminary design review, one of the key milestones in any instrument’s life. Over the next eight months details will be finalised and Guy Peters hopes that the Leicester team will receive funding from the British Council to enable it to continue to support the mission after the satellite’s launch.

He has recently returned from a visit to India with Leicester’s Chief Engineer, Tim Stevenson, for an engineering and management review. This will be followed in a few months by a Leicester science team, while a delegation from India will come to Leicester in the summer.

"Leicester’s involvement with Astrosat is a really important thing, not just for the University, but for Leicester as a whole," Guy said. "It is a credit to the University that they have recognised it as a worthwhile investment. We should flag it up as something the whole city can be proud of."

Alex Jelley | alfa
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