NASA and ESA unite

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NASA has signed two agreements of co-operation with the European Space Agency (ESA) at the International Paris Air Show on Monday.

The agreements specify terms of co-operation on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder mission.

LISA will be used in a joint mission between ESA and NASA to detect gravitational waves in space and to test the theory of general relativity.

The JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, although it will operate over a different range of wavelengths. NASA, ESA and the Canadian agency plan to use it to explore the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.

‘We expect that, as Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope also will make profound astronomical observations and discoveries,’ said NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

The observatory will contain a telescope with a primary mirror measuring 6.5m in diameter and features such as a fine guidance sensor for precision pointing.

It will operate outside the Earth’s atmosphere at a location in space called the second Lagrangian point (L2) one million miles (1,609,344km) in the direction opposite the sun (equal to four times further than the moon’s orbit).

NASA is responsible for the overall management and operation of the JWST mission, as well as for the building of the spacecraft telescope. It will also supply a Near-Infrared Camera through the University of Arizona, Tucson, detectors to monitor the wavelengths of light emanating from the stars, and microshutters to pin-point the star to be observed.

ESA will supply a Near-Infrared spectograph to measure the wavelengths as well as an ARIANE 5 ECA rocket to launch the telescope.

Under the LISA contract, ESA will also design, develop, launch and operate the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft, while NASA will provide a Disturbance Reduction System, control systems and software.

The LISA Pathfinder mission is scheduled for launch in early 2010, and the JWST is expected to The telescope is expected to be launched in 2013 and will operate for at least five years.