03 Oct 2023



The UK ATC was part of a consortium of 15 institutes which built SPIRE (the Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver instrument) for the Herschel Space Observatory.

Artist's concept of the Herschel Space Observatory.



SPIRE was optimised for astronomy which can only be done from space. By measuring the far infrared and submillimetre emission from gas and dust heated by young stars SPIRE allowed astronomers to study the physics of star formation and detect galaxies forming in the very early Universe. An image of the SPIRE Beam Steering Mirror.

In collaboration with the other partner institutes (from ​the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and the USA​) the UK ATC helped develop the overall instrument design and made major contributions to the initial opto-mechanical design of the photometer channels (i.e. the camera optics and layout). 

The UK ATC was responsible for the design, testing and manufacture of the beam steering mechanism. The beam steering mechanism is the first mirror that the infrared light from the telescope will encounter when it enters the instrument. It can be moved rapidly back and forth between various positions, so that the detectors measure alternately regions of the astronomical source of interest and a nearby region of sky. This chopping motion is necessary because it means that changes in the background infrared radiation entering the telescope can be removed from the astronomical signal, improving the accuracy and sensitivity of the measurements.

UK ATC also contributed effort towards the instrument control centre design – the software necessary to deal with the data that SPIRE will produce. As well as the focal plane systems engineering, ensuring that the final instrument performance met astronomical requirements.

Find out more about SPIRE.

Find out more about the​ HERSCHEL mission.