Monday, May 13, 2019

The Proposed CASTOR Space Telescope is Looking for Funding

          By Chuck Black

A design for a proposed Canadian space telescope intended to provide panoramic, high-resolution imaging in the UV/optical (0.15–0.55 µm) spectral region is being revisited by many of the same academics, scientists and engineers who contributed to the initial design.

The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR) was the subject of a thirty five page Canadian Space Agency (CSA) position paper seven years ago, but the project has received no substantive funding since the paper was published in March 2012.

The original CASTOR proposal was developed in response to the Canadian Astronomical Society's (CASCA) 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy, a review of Canadian capabilities intended to outline "the broad goals and directions of astronomical and astrophysical research in Canada," over the period from 2010 - 2020.

It derived from an earlier CASCA plans to champion a domestically based large space telescope project in order to promote Canadian academic and private sector capabilities to the rest of the world.

As outlined in the CASCA 2010 Long Range Plan:

  • The highest priority in space astronomy is: “…significant involvement in the next generation of dark energy missions — ESA‘s Euclid, or the NASA WFIRST mission, or a Canadian-led mission, the Canadian Space Telescope (CST).”
  • … Canadian space astronomy technology has reached the point that we could [now] lead a large space astronomy mission (such as the Canadian Space Telescope).”
  • Leading such a project would break new ground for Canadian space astronomy and present numerous opportunities for Canadian companies to showcase technological capabilities.” 

The CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy advises the CSA on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms and funding. They thought that they had a decent chance of moving the program forward, but after the initial reception, the plan languished in unfunded space project purgatory, where it seemingly remained until last week.

Early milestones in CASCA's quest to generate the CST. Chart c/o the July 2014 CASCA CASTOR website

The revival came on the Space Matters website from one of the original authors of the 2012 CASTOR proposal. As outlined in the May 9th, 2019 Space Matters post, "CASTOR: a Beaver or a Canadian Space Telescope?," space astronomy is on the verge of a revolution:
In the next decade, a pair of sophisticated imaging telescopes — Europe’s Euclid mission and NASA’s WFIRST mission — will survey the skies at red-optical and infrared wavelengths, hoping to unlock the secrets of Dark Energy, a mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. 
CASTOR has been designed to complement these by providing razor-sharp images at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and blue-optical region.
CASTOR would not only open a new window on the cosmos, but it would succeed the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as the world’s preeminent imaging facility at these wavelengths. Launched in 1990, HST is nearing the end of its lifetime, and astronomers worldwide will soon lose access to the razor-sharp imaging capabilities that have propelled their research to new heights and captivated the pubic in the process.
Author Patrick Côté is an astronomer at the National Research Council’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria BC and one of the contributors to the 2012 CASTOR proposal.

The Space Matters website began in 2018 with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PromoScience grant to the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at the University of Western Ontario (Western).

Current partners in the Space Matters collective also include the Canadian Association of Science Centres, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Partners in Research Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Cover page from the March 2012 CSA overview of CASTOR, which included a list of contributing authors. Cambridge ON based COM DEV International would likely have become the prime contractor for the program had it been approved and funded by the CSA, which accounts for the large number of COM DEV contributors. Graphic c/o CSA.

Will CASTER ever receive enough funding to move forward? That's not likely given the upcoming election and the uncomfortable fact that the natural prime contractor for the project is no longer in existence.

In November 2015, Cambridge ON based COM DEV International, a strong contributer to the 2012 CASTOR position paper, was purchased by Charlotte NC based Honeywell International.

It's unknown if the current owners would be able to take on the prime contractor role for CASTER. Maybe that's something that can be revisited at some point.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 


  1. Honeywell, ABB, and Magellan have just completed a detailed study updating the CASTOR mission plans, and are eminently ready and able to move to flight construction.

  2. This explains the new interest in the plan. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Chuck Black - Editor


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