Webb Telescope's MIRI flight instrument completes cryogenic testing in the UK

Aug 18, 2011
The Mid-Infrared Instrument underwent testing inside the thermal space test chamber at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Space in Oxfordshire, U.K. Credit: RAL

A pioneering camera and spectrometer that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has completed cryogenic testing designed to mimic the harsh conditions it will experience in space. The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) underwent testing inside the thermal space test chamber at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) Space in Oxfordshire, U.K. The sophisticated instrument is designed to examine the first light in the universe and the formation of planets around other stars.

A team of more than 50 scientists from 11 countries tested MIRI for 86 days, representing the longest and most exhaustive testing at of an astronomy instrument in Europe prior to delivery for its integration into a spacecraft.

"The successful completion of the test program, involving more than 2,000 individual tests, marks a major milestone for the Webb telescope mission," said Matthew Greenhouse, Webb telescope project scientist for the Science , at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The Mid-Infrared Instrument undergoing alignment testing at the RAL. Credit: RAL

Along with the Webb telescope's other instruments, MIRI will help scientists better understand how the universe formed following the Big Bang and ultimately developed star systems that may be capable of supporting life. In particular, scientists hope to explore young planets around distant stars that are shrouded by gas and dust when viewed in visible light. Because infrared light penetrates these obstructions, MIRI can acquire images of planetary nurseries sharper than ever before possible. With its spectrometer, MIRI could potentially reveal the existence of water on these planets as well, informing future investigations into their for humans.

To capture some of the earliest, infrared light in the cosmos, MIRI has to be cooled to 7 Kelvin (-266 Celsius/-447 Fahrenheit), which brings tough challenges for testing the instrument. Inside the RAL Space thermal space test chamber, specially constructed shrouds, cooled to 40K (-233C/-388F), surround MIRI while scientists observe simulated background stars. The tests were designed to ensure that MIRI can operate successfully in the cold vacuum of space and allow scientists to gather vital calibration and baseline data.

This is an artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

The MIRI team is now analyzing data from the cryogenic test campaign, completing remaining "warm testing," and will prepare the for delivery to NASA Goddard. There it will be integrated with the other instruments, and the telescope.

"Thousands of astronomers will use the Webb telescope to extend the reach of human knowledge far beyond today's limits. Just as the Hubble Telescope rewrote textbooks everywhere, Webb will find new surprises and help to answer some of the most pressing questions in astronomy," said John Mather, Nobel laureate and Webb senior project scientist at NASA Goddard.

Explore further: PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Testing time for instrument on Hubble's successor

Dec 06, 2007

A significant milestone for the Hubble Space Telescope successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is on course to be reached before Christmas with the testing of the verification model of the Mid-InfraRed Instrument ...

Hubble's successor one step closer to completion

Mar 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A working replica of MIRI - the pioneering camera and spectrometer for the James Webb Space Telescope - has just been shipped (16th March) from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ...

Recommended for you

Student to live in simulated space habitat

1 hour ago

A Purdue University industrial engineering doctoral student is among six "crew members" spending the next eight months in a domed habitat on a volcanic landscape mimicking life on a Martian outpost.

The wake-up call that sent hearts racing

4 hours ago

"But as the minutes ticked by, the relaxed attitude of many of us began to dissolve into apprehension. Our levels of adrenaline and worry began to rise."

US-India to collaborate on Mars exploration

13 hours ago

The United States and India, fresh from sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars' orbit earlier this month, on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on future exploration of the Red Planet.

Swift mission observes mega flares from a mini star

14 hours ago

On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series ...

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

18 hours ago

High winds are a near-daily force on the surface of Mars, carving out a landscape of shifting dunes and posing a challenge to exploration, scientists said Tuesday.

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

21 hours ago

Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eoprime
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
Want it, now! :)