News and events archive 2004 - 2013


Space bound equipment set for shake, rattle and roll

Schematic diagram of the MIRI Instrument. Credit: University of Leicester, European Consortium Institutes and JPL.

Space bound equipment set for shake, rattle and roll

University of Leicester plays pivotal role in equipment for Hubble successor

Issued on 01 October 2010

Images at:

Please contact John Pye 0116 252 3552 with regard to use of images, credits and captions

Satellite equipment developed with the help of space engineers and technicians at the University of Leicester is about to receive its first taste of the harsh conditions of space -without even leaving the UK.

The sophisticated instrument - designed to examine the first light in the Universe and the formation of planets around other stars – will shortly be put through its paces in the space test chamber at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). The tests include ensuring it can survive the vibrations of a rocket launch and operate successfully in the cold vacuum of space.

The University of Leicester has played a pivotal role developing the mechanical engineering know-how behind one of four instruments to be placed on board the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to be launched in 2014 in order to succeed the current Hubble telescope.

The JWST telescope will produce the sharpest images yet of the farthest depths of the cosmos – thanks, in part, to the work of engineers and scientists at the University of Leicester Space Research Centre.

Space Research Centre Manager, John Pye said: “JWST will have four scientific instruments. One of these instruments – the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is being designed and built by a European Consortium of scientific institutions and industry, including the University of Leicester.”

Dr Pye, who is also the University’s lead staff member for MIRI, added: “We provide the structural and mechanical engineering lead for the design and development of MIRI, and with colleagues at the Danish National Space Centre (DNSC) are responsible for the MIRI ‘Primary Structure’ that ensures that all the critical components of the instrument are held in close alignment even through the large vibrations and shock of launch (on a European Space Agency Ariane-V rocket) and during cool-down to the operational temperature of -266 C (just 7 degrees above ‘absolute zero’).”

The journey to space began a few months ago when the flight model of MIRI was integrated at RAL, from key parts that have been developed at institutes across Europe. Each of these parts of MIRI have already, separately, undergone exhaustive mechanical and thermal testing to make sure they can not only survive the rigours of a journey into space, but also remain operational for the life of the mission. Now the whole instrument will be tested using specially designed facilities developed at RAL to simulate the environment that the instrument will experience once in space.

"Bringing the Flight Model MIRI to readiness for the testing is the culmination of several years’ hard work and dedication from the teams all around Europe along with the efforts from our US colleagues. The fact that we are now at that point is testament to the tremendous team spirit in the MIRI Consortium and there will be many people waiting to hear the test results" said John Thatcher, the MIRI European project manager from Astrium Ltd.

Jon Sykes, of the University’s Space Research Centre, who is the mechanical engineering lead for the whole MIRI Consortium, added: “As a ground-breaking astronomical instrument, MIRI has presented many engineering challenges, which the multi-national design team have worked together to meet and produce a world-class facility.”

Dr Pye added: “The project has now successfully built and tested two full-size test models of MIRI. The international MIRI team has recently completed the assembly of the final – the Flight – model at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire. Now comes the “crunch time” when we have to “shake” the whole 100-kg instrument on a large vibration facility at RAL to ensure that it will withstand the rigours of the rocket launch and that all the high-precision optical components will not distort.”

Piyal Samara-Ratna, another of the Space Research Centre’s engineers deeply involved in the project said: “The Space Research Centre is leading these vibration tests, and carries a heavy responsibility to ensure that all goes well. This has involved many months of careful planning in preparation and has included extensive use of state-of-the-art Computed Aided Design (CAD) software to predict the behaviour of our instrument.”

Notes for Editors:

For interviews contact Dr John Pye, University of Leicester Space Research Centre: Phone +44 116 252 3552


International press release at:

The UK and MIRI

The UK’s lead role in the instrument involves taking responsibility for the overall science performance, the mechanical, thermal and optical design, along with the assembly, integration, testing and calibration. These roles are shared between the UK institutions in the partnership as follows:

• UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC), Edinburgh – European science lead for the instrument; responsible for the overall instrument optical design and analyses, developing the overall calibration, and providing the spectrometer pre-optic subsystem.

• Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), Oxfordshire – responsible for overall instrument thermal design and analysis and production of all thermal hardware; assembly, integration, testing & verification of instrument including provision of bespoke test facilities; instrument ground calibration.

• University of Leicester – responsible for instrument overall mechanical design and analysis; provision of instrument primary structure (in partnership with Danish National Space Centre); provision of mechanical ground support equipment.

• EADS Astrium – overall project management and engineering leadership role; systems engineering; overall instrument product assurance leadership.

The James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. It is scheduled to launch in 2014 and will carry four scientific instruments: MIRI (mid-infrared camera and spectrograph), NIRSpec (near-infrared spectrograph), NIRCam (near-infrared camera), and TFI (tunable filter imager).


MIRI, the mid-infrared instrument, provides imaging, coronagraphy and integral field spectroscopy over the 5-28 micron wavelength range. It is being developed as a partnership between Europe and the USA - the main partners are ESA, a consortium of nationally funded European institutes, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). The European consortium includes: Astronomy Technology Centre, UK; Astron, Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy, Netherlands; CCLRC, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), UK; CEA Service d'Astrophysique, Saclay, France; Centre Spatial de Liège, Belgium; Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Spain; Danish Space Research Institute (DSRI), Denmark; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland;

EADS Astrium Ltd, UK; Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), Orsay, France; Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), Spain; Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille

Image suggestions:


Gallery of images of MIRI at RAL (available from the UK Space Agency Press Office)

The James Webb Space Telescope:


More about MIRI:

MIRI European Consortium:

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories.

  • The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
  • The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
  • The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research.

The Council works closely with the UK Space Agency on the UK civil space programme.

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

The UK civil space programme budget is currently in the order of £312m per year – about 77% of which is the UK’s contribution to European Space Agency (ESA) projects.

Second only to the USA in space science, the UK's thriving space sector contributes £6.5bn a year to the UK economy and supports 68,000 jobs

The UK Space Agency:

• Co-ordinates UK civil space activity

• Encourages academic research

• Supports the UK space industry

• Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad

• Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits

• Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers

• Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft

• Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme


- Interviewees needed for reception study of Holocaust films

- IRIS launch event for the Colleges of Arts, Humanities & Law and Social Science

- Participants need for online study about the need for cognitive closure

- 'Faith and Politics'

- Undergraduates wanted, for a paid opportunity to take part in a short memory study

[University Home]. [eBulletin]. [University Index A-Z]. [University Search]. [University Help]
Managed by Press Office
[Copyright] and [Disclaimer]