James Webb Telescope's last backbone component completed

Jun 14, 2013
The center section of the James Webb Space Telescope flight backplane, or Primary Mirror Backplane Support Structure, at ATK’s manufacturing facility in Magna, Utah. Credit: ATK

(Phys.org) —Assembly of the backbone of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the primary mirror backplane support structure, is a step closer to completion with the recent addition of the backplane support frame, a fixture that will be used to connect all the pieces of the telescope together.

The backplane support frame will bring together Webb's center section and wings, secondary mirror support structure, aft optics system and integrated . ATK of Magna, Utah, finished fabrication under the direction of the observatory's builder, Northrop Grumman Corp.

The backplane support frame also will keep the light path aligned inside the telescope during science observations. Measuring 11.5 feet by 9.1 feet by 23.6 feet and weighing 1,102 pounds, it is the final segment needed to complete the primary mirror backplane support structure. This structure will support the observatory's weight during its launch from Earth and hold its18-piece, 21-foot-diameter primary mirror nearly motionless while Webb peers into deep space.

ATK has begun final integration of the backplane support frame to the backplane center section, which it completed in April 2012 and two backplane wing assemblies, which it completed in March.

"Fabricating and assembling the backplane support frame of this size and stability is a significant technological step as it is one of the largest cryogenic composite structures ever built," said Lee Feinberg, element manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The frame, which was built at room temperature but must operate at temperatures ranging from minus 406 degrees to minus 343 degrees Fahrenheit, will undergo extremely cold, or cryogenic, thermal testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The backplane support frame and primary mirror backplane support structure will shrink as they cool down in space. The tests, exceeding the low temperatures the telescope's backbone will experience in space, are to verify the components will be the right size and operate correctly in space.

The primary mirror backplane support structure consists of more than 10,000 parts, all designed, engineered and built by ATK. The support structure will measure about 24 feet tall, 19.5 feet wide and more than 11 feet deep when fully deployed, but weigh only 2,138 pounds with the wing assemblies, center section and backplane support frame attached. When the mission payload and instruments are installed, the fully populated support structure will support more than 7,300 pounds, more than three times its own weight.

Artist's concept of the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit. Credit: NASA

The backplane support structure also will meet unprecedented thermal stability requirements to minimize heat distortion. While the telescope is operating at a range of extremely cold temperatures, from minus 406 degrees to minus 343 degrees Fahrenheit, the backplane must not vary more than 38 nanometers (approximately 1 one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair).

The primary backplane support structure is made of lightweight graphite materials using and advanced fabrication techniques. The composite parts are connected with precision metallic fittings made of invar and titanium.

"The ATK team is providing program hardware that is arguably the largest and most advanced cryogenic structure ever built," said Bob Hellekson, ATK's Webb telescope program manager.

The assembled primary backplane support structure and backplane support frame are scheduled for delivery to Marshall later this year for the extreme cryogenic thermal testing. They will undergo structural static testing at 's facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif. in early 2014, and then be combined with the wing assemblies.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, will be the most powerful ever built. It will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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User comments : 8

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maxb500_live_nl
1 / 5 (6) Jun 14, 2013
Looking at the risks of launch and the extreme risks at deployment and the results of the now shut down 1 Billion Euro Herschell space telescope (the largest ever space telescope, larger then Hubble) i`m not sure this 9 billion dollars is a brilliant investment. It makes it an insanely expensive gamble. And while obviously improved over Herschel infrared science and discoveries remain far behind on visible light telescopes like Hubble. The fact is it will mainly focus on infrared. And 9 Billion is an insane amount of money. It could now build a ground based telescope 100 meters in diameter. Capable of decades of operation and capable of imaging exoplanets directly and analysis their atmosphere for signs of life and much more. And Finally it`s extreme distance will make JW difficult and expensive to do any servicing missions on. Though it`s possible it would cost insane amounts. Could the 9 Billion have produced greater results elsewhere? To be clear JW is already massively over budget.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (2) Jun 14, 2013
Imagine a Very Large Array of James Webb Telescopes in space. We'd be able to see land formations on exo-planets, and visible signs of life, if they exist.
Greenwood
5 / 5 (8) Jun 14, 2013
while obviously improved over Herschel infrared science and discoveries remain far behind on visible light telescopes like Hubble.


Herschel and JWST are not comparable. Herschel is as different to JWST as JWST is to Hubble. They might both work in the infrared but so does Hubble, they do not observe the same wavelengths and have very different capabilities and science. A space based telescope in the infrared has a huge benefit over ground based telescopes in terms of sensitivity, JWST is a telescope for the moment, it will complement the science of the upcoming ELTs and ALMA very well. Characterising exoplanets may be of great interest but the science case is less convincing, those science cases are not being ignored and are receiving significant funding.
Q-Star
2.7 / 5 (7) Jun 14, 2013
while obviously improved over Herschel infrared science and discoveries remain far behind on visible light telescopes like Hubble.


Herschel and JWST are not comparable. Herschel is as different to JWST as JWST is to Hubble. They might both work in the infrared but so does Hubble, they do not observe the same wavelengths and have very different capabilities and science. A space based telescope in the infrared has a huge benefit over ground based telescopes in terms of sensitivity, JWST is a telescope for the moment, it will complement the science of the upcoming ELTs and ALMA very well.


Excellent points all. But most excellent is,,,,,,,,

Characterising exoplanets may be of great interest but the science case is less convincing, those science cases are not being ignored and are receiving significant funding.


marcin_szczurowski
1 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2013
Science portal, Y U not use metrical system when writing about science? :P

Imagine a Very Large Array of James Webb Telescopes in space. We'd be able to see land formations on exo-planets, and visible signs of life, if they exist.

I believe it's only a matter of time to build something significantly larger. It's possible when you use modules like in JWST. Problem is to divert money flow from wars and other such activities...
Egleton
1 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2013
At the South Pole there is descending air and ice.
Place a circular rail on the ice. Build a bridge over the rail on the diameter. Make the diameter as large as possible.
The bridge is on wheels and rotates about the center of the circle.
Water is sprayed from the bridge to build a giant convex lens of clear ice.
The lens is polished to perfection.
Aluminum is sprayed on the Ice.
Carbon fibers are sprayed onto the aluminum. Piezo crystals are placed on the carbon layer.
A supporting frame of your choice is laid over the crystals.
A current is passed through the aluminum to heat it and separate it from the ice.
Hydrogen is forced between the aluminum and the ice.
The structure floats away and is guided to the side, where it is allowed to flip over and settles on the surface.
Repeat the process.
The next structure is not allowed to flip over but is brought down onto the first and the edges are sealed with a gentle explosive paste..
Two linear accelerators and rocket are attached to the
Egleton
1 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2013
outside.
The construction is filled with hydrogen.
It is floated to the edge of space. The rocket takes the structure up to an altitude where the linear accelerators' thrust is sufficient to overcome atmospheric drag.
The steady thrust of the accelerators take the vessel out of Earth's gravitational well, where the gentle explosive separates the construction. The two halves then go to L4 and L5.
A camera is placed at the focal point of the lens. Distortions are corrected by the piezo electric crystals.
The direction of the two giant lenses is coordinated to yield binocular views of exoplanets.
This information is presented in an auditorium on the earth as a holographic model.
MandoZink
5 / 5 (5) Jun 15, 2013
Though it`s possible it would cost insane amounts. Could the 9 Billion have produced greater results elsewhere?

I always wish we, as beings on this planet, could just look at what we're doing and put our spending into perspective. The world's total current military budget is about 2 trillion dollars. One year's worth of that could easily bring us multiple lunar bases, a Mars habitat, 10 James Webb telescopes and an incredible number of knowledge and human race advancing endeavors. Twenty years of that money and we would be on other planets/moons and preparing to head out of the solar system.

What a miserable empty waste of our resources and capabilities. In any decent future we will look back at these times as incredibly foolish. I just hope to hell I live long enough to enjoy what the Webb telescope will yield.

As another exploration goal, I'd love to find out what might be floating around at L3, L4 and L5.

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