Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility to close After 26 successful years

Dec. 17, 2010
Garching, Germany--The Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF), the scientific and technical coordination center for the Hubble Space Telescope in Europe, will close its doors at the end of December 2010.

Garching, Germany--The Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF), the scientific and technical coordination center for the Hubble Space Telescope in Europe, will close its doors at the end of December 2010. This is part of a process in which the European Space Agency is streamlining its operations and concentrating astronomical operations, archiving, and data-reduction expertise at its European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Spain.

The ST-ECF was formed in 1984; rather than simply contribute to Hubble science and technology programs in the US, ESA made the strategic decision to build capabilities in Europe. As a result, the ST-ECF was formed as a joint venture between ESA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), combining the technical and scientific expertise of both organizations.

The ST-ECF's primary function has been as a support facility, both by contributing to the Hubble project and providing expertise and advice to European astronomers using Hubble. But the work has also had benefits elsewhere.

"Establishing the ST-ECF within ESO allowed a very productive cross-fertilization of ideas to take place. For example, the ST-ECF's work on software, imaging, and data archives has fed back into NASA's work on Hubble. Conversely, the experience of being involved in Hubble gave ESO invaluable expertise for our Very Large Telescope," says ESO director general Tim de Zeeuw

Image enhancement: 'dithering' and 'drizzling'
One area where the ST-ECF has made a particular impact is in astronomical image processing. In the early days, techniques were developed to counteract the effects of Hubble's flawed mirror (deconvolution). This work subsequently evolved, in collaboration with NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), to use a combination of multiple, slightly displaced exposures (dithering) with a combination technique (drizzling) to greatly improve the imaging capability of the telescope. This work has proved very productive for astronomy in general, not just for Hubble.

In addition, staff at the ST-ECF made important advances in the modeling of the performance of various astronomical instruments, providing substantial improvements in the scientific data produced by Hubble over the years.

The ST-ECF was also a pioneer of the early internet. Communication and coordination with NASA in the US and sharing data with astronomers across Europe meant that effective computer networking was key. To this end, the facility pioneered online access to scientific data archives, and set up one of the very first websites in Europe in the summer of 1993.

Slitless spectroscopy
In the last few years, the ST-ECF has developed sophisticated software to exploit a capability that enables Hubble's cameras to be used for the simultaneous spectroscopy of many sources in the field of view. Applied from a telescope in space, this slitless spectroscopy is an enormously powerful technique to study the motions and properties of objects that are so faint that they cannot be reached in any other way.

While the ST-ECF's closure marks the end for one aspect of Hubble activities in Europe, ESA remains a firm partner to NASA in the space telescope's continuing mission. To this end, ESA's Science Programme Committee recently voted unanimously to extend the ESA contribution to the end of 2014, with a further extension possible.

ESO will continue to support the ESA public outreach effort for Hubble, processing images for public release, running the ESA/Hubble website at www.spacetelescope.org, and producing the popular Hubblecast podcast series.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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