From the Infrared Astronomical Satellite to the James Webb Space Telescope

Dr. Neil Rowlands, COM DEV

Astronomy (and astronomers) have been very effective in driving detector technology developments. When I arrived at Cornell University as a graduate student in 1985, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite had just completed its short but highly productive mission surveying the infrared sky, using 62 discrete photoconductive IR detectors. The Cornell Infrared Group was already busy with plans for the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) instrument for the next generation, infrared space telescope, which became the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The development effort for IRS involved the first long wavelength multiplexed array detectors (a 10 x 50 array), which we incorporated into instruments for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and the 5-m Hale telescope. Twenty-five years on, driven by projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope, infrared array detectors have reached the same maturity level as CCDs, with mosaics of 2000 x 2000 element array detectors in regular use on the ground and soon in space.

This talk offers one instrumentalist’s view of these infrared detector developments for astronomy, with some detours into their impacts on earth observation, space physics, and atmospheric science along the way.

Neil Rowlands obtained his B.Sc (Engineering Physics) from the University of Alberta in 1985 and his Ph.D. (Astronomy) from Cornell University in 1991. At Cornell, he participated in the construction and use of infrared instrumentation for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and the 5m Hale telescope at Mt. Palomar.

From 1991 to 1993, he held an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship at the Université de Montréal where he worked with an infrared camera, deploying it at the Canada France Hawaii Telescope.

From 1993 to 1995, he held an NSERC Visiting Post-doctoral fellowship at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing where he built, tested and used an airborne hyperspectral imager.

In 1995, he joined CAL Corporation (Ottawa, ON), now COM DEV, as an electro-optical engineer, developing space-borne scientific instrumentation for the space physics, atmospheric sciences and astronomy communities. He is currently a Staff Scientist at COM DEV. He has been working on the Canadian contribution to the JWST project since 1997, and is currently serving as the industrial FGS program scientist.

2011 Flight model JWST Fine Guidance Sensor focal plane array (2048×2048 pixels).

1981 Flight spare IRAS focal plane (62 discrete pixels). Photo: National Air & Space Museum