First 2 Webb Telescope flight mirrors delivered to NASA

Sep 24, 2012
Technicians and scientists check out one of the Webb telescope's first two flight mirrors in the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Credit: Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

(Phys.org)—The first two of the 18 primary mirrors to fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope arrived at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The mirrors are going through receiving and inspection and will then be stored in the Goddard until engineers are ready to assemble them onto the telescope's backplane structure that will support them.

This photo shows one of the two mirrors, while the other awaits opening in its shipping canister. The mirrors have arrived at their new home at NASA, where they will be residing at the giant cleanroom at Goddard for a while as technicians check them out. Credit: Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Colo., under contract to , is responsible for the Webb's and lightweight . On September 17, 2012, Ball Aerospace shipped the first two mirrors in custom containers designed specifically for the multiple trips the mirrors made through eight U.S. states while completing their manufacturing. The remaining 16 mirrors will make their way from Ball Aerospace to Goddard over the next 12 months as they await telescope integration in 2015.

"These first two completed flight mirror assemblies arriving at Goddard are an important first step leading towards the integration of the mirrors onto the flight structure," said Lee Feinberg, NASA Element Manager for the at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "These delivered flight mirrors meet their requirements, which is great news for Webb telescope being able to fulfill its scientific potential."

One of the Webb's science goals is to look back through time to when galaxies were young. To see such far-off and faint objects, Webb needs a large mirror. A telescope's sensitivity, or how much detail it can see, is directly related to the size of the mirror area that collects light from the objects being observed. A larger area collects more light, just like a larger bucket collects more water in a rain shower than a small one.

Webb's scientists and engineers determined that a primary mirror 6.5 meters (21 feet 4 inches) across is what was needed to measure the light from these distant galaxies. Each of the 18 hexagonal-shaped mirror assemblies that make up the primary mirror measures more than 1.3 meters (4.2 feet) across, and weighs approximately 40 kilograms, or 88 pounds. The Webb will be the first space astronomy observatory to use an actively-controlled, segmented . The Webb is critical for future infrared observations.

The Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of stellar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. It is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Agency.

Explore further: Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

James Webb Telescope flight backplane section completed

Apr 24, 2012

The center section of the backplane structure that will fly on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has been completed, marking an important milestone in the telescope's hardware development. The backplane will ...

Recommended for you

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

2 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

4 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 ...

NASA rocket has six minutes to study solar heating

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —On Sept. 30, 2014, a sounding rocket will fly up into the sky – past Earth's atmosphere that obscures certain wavelengths of light from the sun—for a 15-minute journey to study what heats ...

Cassini watches mysterious feature evolve in Titan sea

21 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square ...

User comments : 0