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: Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

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

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

16 hours ago

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

19 hours ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

20 hours ago

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

20 hours ago

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

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! :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.