For the past year and change, a concerted effort has been underway in the SPHEREx Optics Integration and Test Lab at Caltech leading to the completion of the first round of system level testing of the SPHEREx flight instrument - detector assemblies, mirrors, and the thermal control system. The test was conducted in a large custom-made thermal vacuum chamber (watch its dramatic arrival at Caltech) provided by our team members at the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).
Having completed a series of subsystem-level tests to separately verify optical, electrical and spectral performance, the assembled instrument was installed into the thermal vacuum chamber on the first of July, 2023, where it underwent integrated system level testing in a flight-like environment.
Over the course of 10 days, the chamber was pumped down to below a micro-Torr (a billionth of atmospheric pressure) and cooled below 60 Kelvin using pulse-tube coolers. Once the chamber reached a space-like environment, an intense 2-week test campaign to measure focus of the telescope followed. Many telescopes have a mechanism to adjust focus when operating in space, but SPHEREx and its "no moving parts philosophy" is a fixed focus instrument. This brings significantly less risk of failed mechanical parts in space, but means that focus must be set correctly in the lab before launch.
The first phase of the iterative focus process was concluded on the 20th of July, 2023. Analysis of the tens of Tbytes of data collected allowed the team to calculate precisely how much movement in the telescope is required to bring it into focus. Currently, adjustments to the detector positions comparable in scale to the width of a human hair are being completed. At that point, the corrected focus will be verified before vibration testing at JPL.
For the rest of 2023, the telescope will undergo a staged set of 3 additional system level tests in the KASI chamber. The next two tests are to optimize focus, while the final test is for spectral calibration. The spectral calibration measurement makes use of a large integrating sphere and Winston cone, both cooled to low temperature, which illuminates the telescope entrance pupil with diffuse monochromatic light. This unique method allows us to measure the spectral response of every one of the 24 million pixels SPHEREx’s focal planes.
In this timelapse movie, scientists and engineers can be seen preparing NASA’s SPHEREx space telescope for tests inside a vacuum chamber at Caltech that simulates the environment of space.Read More
The SPHEREx mission will create a 3D map of the entire sky. Its cutting-edge instruments require a custom-built chamber to make sure they’ll be ready to operate in space. After three years of design and construction, a monthlong boat ride across the Pacific Ocean, and a lift from a 30-ton crane, the customized test chamber for NASA’s upcoming SPHEREx mission has finally reached its destination...Read More