Upgrade of Vacuum UV Detector Calibration Facility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


The Space Research Centre (SRC) within the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester has a long heritage in space science which has seen a Leicester-built instrument operating in earth orbit and beyond for every year since 1967. The SRC has played significant roles in many space missions with space agencies including NASA, ESA, UKSA, ISRO (India) and JAXA (Japan), for astronomical, planetary and Earth observation science missions. This continuous development and production of space instruments requires specialist custom facilities to support both research and development in early mission phases, and the characterisation tasks required for flight instruments. One such facility, originally assembled in later 1980s for the ROSAT mission, is the Vacuum UV Detector Calibration Facility (VUV-DCF), required for the multi-wavelength test and calibration of instruments from 200 nm down to 10 nm where UV is strongly absorbed by molecular oxygen and a vacuum environment is required.
The development fulfils a strategic need of the UK academic research groups and commercial manufacturers who have a strong heritage in the development of state-of-the-art detector systems at UV wavelengths below 200 nm for applications such as astronomy, defence, space weather, earth remote sensing, etc.. These have included:
lSAS Solar B: Extreme UV Imaging Spectrograph
Hubble Space Telescope: Wide field camera 3
Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO)
Solar Dynamics Observatory
MKA-FKl-PN5 ARKA Telescope.
Specifically, this facility upgrade would provide important support for the following instruments currently under development:
World Space Observatory-UV: WUVS instrument - spectrographs (Teledyne-e2v).
World Space Observatory-UV: Imaging and Slitless Spectroscopy Instrument (ISSIS) (Photek).
World Space Observatory-UV: Field Camera Unit (FCU) (Universidad Complutense de Madrid).
Growing involvement with Chinese groups developing e.g. space weather satellite constellations (Photek)

However there is currently no up-to-date UK-based vacuum UV measurement facility for absolute calibration of such instruments which is both readily available, and provides an absolute calibration standard. Such as facility is a prerequisite for UK research groups and industry to be able to measure and verify instrument performance and more broadly, demonstrate their technological capabilities.
The VUV-DCF facility at Leicester was commissioned in the 90's and provided that capability. However, the system has fallen into disuse due to limited funds to replace essential components of the hardware that have limited lifetime e.g. vacuum pumps, control electronics and software, calibration standard detectors, valves, seals, light sources, etc. To address this need, we propose a combined programme of (i) refurbishment, to replace ageing hardware, plus (ii) upgrade, to improve the capabilities of the facility bringing it up to date with respect to today's requirements, by adding the new UV sources and calibration standards, extending wavelength coverage above 200 nm to accommodate broad range instruments, and updating facility control and automation software to use the latest operating system.

A nationally available facility (available to all academic groups and industry within the UK) is a prerequisite to sustain UK leadership roles on international space missions in UV astronomy and will provide the capability to continue ground-breaking innovation, research and development of UV photocathodes, detectors and systems.

Planned Impact

The refurbishment and upgrade of this system, will re-establish a UK -based state-of-the-art vacuum UV calibration facility for both academic research and development and commercial projects, giving the means once again for the UK academic groups and industries to perform early stage research and development in VUV techniques and also to provide fully calibrated and characterised instruments for international space missions. The facility will underpin UK capabilities in VUV science, technology and expertise relevant to space instrumentation and other related activities all elements of STFC's core Science Programme.
Alongside initiatives such as the Space Park at Leicester (of which this will become a component facility), this provision will help to sustain and enhance the UK technology capabilities, roles and reputation within the space sector and beyond. The enhancement of academic and industrial reputation will lead directly to creation of UK-based jobs up and down the supply chain, thus producing positive economic and societal impact within the UK
Enhanced international capability and visibility will progress our academic and industrial research programmes, enhance group reputations, and increase attractiveness of the academic partners to high calibre students and staff, with resulting benefits to teaching, training and research. It will bring new opportunities for academic groups to work with industrial partners, extending the commercial potency of their collective expertise. Particularly it will allow further progress to be made in the development of VUV and solar-blind photocathodes, an area in which UK industry is already successful and could develop a world lead: a SPRINT-funded project in this field between Photek and Leicester is already being developed.
The facility will lead to enhancement in UV detection expertise resulting in improvements to instrumentation and sensitivity. The development and exploitation of improved UV instrumentation will enhance the capabilities of space weather prediction and increase our knowledge of this fundamental process, providing potential early warning of major events which can have major consequences for the global climate, communications, power delivery etc. Better predictive capabilities allowing faster response to major, potentially catastrophic events (coronal mass ejects colliding with the Earth) have the potential to mitigate the profound negative economic and societal impacts that these could produce.


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