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23 February, 2006 - 10:30 By Staff Reporter

Open University asked to provide critical technology to space project led from Japan

An ambitious space programme led by Japan to map the universe has turned to the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes to provide key technology capable of translating the all-important satellite data into images.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch a satellite telescope this month for the 500 day ASTRO-F infrared astronomical mission, which is known as the All-Sky Survey.

The objective is to use infrared wavelengths with a sensitivity much higher than the first infrared astronomical satellite that was launched in 1983.

Astro-F will orbit the Earth over the North and South Poles.

The OU’s contribution to ASTRO-F is building the software that will translate the data received from the satellite into images.

Working within a consortium made up of several European institutions, the OU will in return share 50 days use of the 70cm telescope for its own research.

Glenn White, Professor of Astronomy at the OU and the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: “The ASTRO-F mission provides us with a powerful new tool to learn about the birth and formation of stars and planets.

“Its detectors will provide a complete map of our own Galaxy at infrared wavelengths, penetrating through the hazy obscuration that normally hides stellar nurseries from our view.

“Our study of the birth of stars, and their attendant planetary systems, will tell us about how our own solar system was formed, and provide clues about how life itself could have started.”

Participants in the project include Imperial College, University of London, University of Kent, Sussex University and SRON-Groningen with the University of Groningen who will all contribute to data reduction for the All-Sky Survey.

The European Space Agency will supply ground stations for data transfer between the telescope and the ground and determining where in the sky the telescope is sighting for the All-Sky Survey data.

Dr Stephen Serjeant, senior lecturer in Astro-physics at the Open University, said: “ASTRO-F is expected to be one of the most important international observatories of the decade.

“This is a tremendous new window on the primordial Universe. The all-sky survey in particular will be a great leap forward in understanding the birth of stars and galaxies.”

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