ASTRO-H, Japan’s flagship space observatory, lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center today at 3:45 a.m. EST (12:45 a.m. PST) on a mission to explore mysterious phenomena in the universe in unprecedented detail. It is equipped with a Canadian lasermeasurement system, the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

In return for CAMS, three Canadians will be part of the mission’s science team and have privileged access to the space observatory to study black holes, supernovas, and galaxy clusters. They will also investigate how galaxies like our own Milky Way were formed and how matter behaves under extreme conditions.

Professor Luigi Gallo of Saint Mary’s University leads Canada’s science team, which includes Professor Brian McNamara of the University of Waterloo and Professor Samar Safi?Harb of the University of Manitoba, as well as their respective teams of researchers and students.

Quick facts

Built by Neptec Design Group Ltd., CAMS is a precision optics technology that will calibrate measurements taken with the observatory’s Hard X-ray Telescope, significantly enhancing the quality of its images. Neptec designed, manufactured, assembled and tested CAMS in just four years.

CAMS consists of a laser and detector attached to one end of the spacecraft and a cube mirror located at the opposite end on an extendable mast, 12 metres away. The mast tends to bend and twist due to the extreme temperature variations in space. CAMS will precisely measure the mast’s distortions to a level of accuracy equivalent to the width of two human hairs.

The Canadian science team will have access to the proprietary data during the first year of the observatory’s operations, after which the entire Canadian astronomy community will have opportunities to propose ideas for further space-based investigations.

The Canadian Space Agency’s total investment in ASTRO-H is estimated at $10 million (including taxes) over seven years (including industry contracts and support for the science team).


“I am delighted that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has successfully launched ASTRO-H—yet another fruitful scientific collaboration between our two countries. Like many Canadians, I look forward to the amazing discoveries from this space-based observatory, and am very much interested to see how Canadian scientists will help advance humankind’s knowledge of the universe.”

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

“CAMS is a perfect example where a strategic investment by the Canadian Space Agency in Canadian technology has led directly to export sales and value-added job creation opportunities for Canada. This project keeps Canada on the leading edge of optical sensor space applications.”