European agreement on James Webb Space Telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) signed

06/11/04

This agreement also marks a new kind of partnership between ESA and its Member States for the funding and implementation of payload for scientific space missions.

MIRI, the Mid-Infrared Instrument, is one of the four instruments on board the JWST, the mission scheduled to follow on the heritage of Hubble in 2011. MIRI will be built in cooperation between Europe and the United States (NASA), both equally contributing to its funding. MIRI's optics, core of the instrument, will be provided by a consortium of European institutes. According to this formal agreement, ESA will manage and co-ordinate the whole development of the European part of MIRI and act as the sole interface with NASA, which is leading the JWST project.

This marks a difference with respect to the previous ESA scientific missions. In the past the funding and the development of the scientific instruments was agreed by the participating ESA Member States on the basis of purely informal arrangements with ESA. In this case, the Member States involved in MIRI have agreed on formally guaranteeing the required level of funding on the basis of a multi-lateral international agreement, which still keeps scientists in key roles.

Over the past years, missions have become more complex and demanding, and more costly within an ever tighter budget. They also require a more and more specific expertise which is spread throughout the vast European scientific community. As a result, a new management procedure for co-ordination of payload development has become a necessity to secure the successful and timely completion of scientific space projects. ESA's co-ordination of the MIRI European consortium represents the first time such an approach has been used, which will be applied to the future missions of the ESA long-term Science Programme – the 'Cosmic Vision'. The technology package for LISA (LTP), an ESA/NASA mission to detect gravitational waves, is already being prepared under the same scheme.

Sergio Volonte, ESA Co-ordinator for Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics Missions, comments: "I'm delighted for such an achievement between ESA and its Member States. With MIRI we will start an even more effective co-ordination on developing our scientific instruments, setting a new framework to further enhance their excellence."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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