Final James Webb Space Telescope mirrors arrive at NASA

December 18, 2013
The last three of the 18 flight primary mirror segments arrived at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on Dec. 16, 2013. After traveling across the country, the mirrors were prepped to enter a Goddard clean room for inspections. Credit: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn

The final three of 18 primary mirrors for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope arrived at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for integration prior to a scheduled launch in 2018.

Once on orbit, the 18 hexagonal mirror segments will work together as one 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) primary mirror, the largest mirror ever flown in space and the first to deploy in space.

"Having the final mirror segments at Goddard is an exciting program milestone. It's the culmination of more than a decade of advanced optics manufacturing and testing work by teams of extremely dedicated engineers, technicians and scientists," said Eric Smith, NASA's acting Webb telescope director in Washington. "These are ready to meet up with the structure that will hold them incredibly stable, forming Webb's 6.5-meter-diameter —the largest ever built."

The mirrors were built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo. Ball is the principal subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the optical technology and lightweight mirror system. Ball Aerospace also developed the secondary mirror, tertiary mirror and fine-steering mirror.

"Ball's sophisticated mirror architecture will provide James Webb with the most advanced infrared vision of any space observatory ever launched by NASA," said Robert Strain, Ball Aerospace president. "A huge amount of teamwork was needed to meet the exacting requirements for the telescope's optical design and we're eager to see the results."

Ball began an incremental process of shipping the finished mirrors to Goddard in September 2012. The mirrors are housed in custom shipping containers designed specifically for the multiple cross-country trips the mirrors made through eight U.S. states during manufacturing. Each container is hermetically sealed to handle atmospheric pressure changes caused by shipping from high elevations such as Boulder to locations at or near sea level such as Greenbelt.

The premier observatory for the next decade, the Webb telescope will be stationed 1 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth – some four times farther away from us than the moon. Webb will be the most powerful space telescope ever built, able to detect the light from the first galaxies ever formed and explore planets around distant stars. It will study every phase of our universe's history, 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.

Explore further: First full set of Webb telescope flight mirrors begin final tests

Related Stories

Webb telescope uses powerful mirrors to detect distant light

September 17, 2012

(—The powerful primary mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to detect the light from distant galaxies. The manufacturer of those mirrors, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., ...

Video hails arrival of 2 different Webb Telescope mirrors

November 29, 2012

(—The sole secondary mirror and a third primary mirror segment that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope arrived at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on Nov. 5, 2012. A video of ...

James Webb telescope team completes optical milestone

January 16, 2013

(—Engineers working on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope met another milestone recently with they completed performance testing on the observatory's aft-optics subsystem at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp's ...

Recommended for you

What happens when your brain can't tell which way is up?

October 13, 2015

In space, there is no "up" or "down." That can mess with the human brain and affect the way people move and think in space. An investigation on the International Space Station seeks to understand how the brain changes in ...

Hubble sees an aging star wave goodbye

October 12, 2015

This planetary nebula is called PK 329-02.2 and is located in the constellation of Norma in the southern sky. It is also sometimes referred to as Menzel 2, or Mz 2, named after the astronomer Donald Menzel who discovered ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2013
I cannot wait until I see the first photos from this wonderful telescope! Sadly it will be at least another 5 years before we see anything.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2013

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.