James Webb Space Telescope unfolds by animation (w/Video)

May 13, 2009
This is the James Webb Space Telescope with different instruments labeled. Credit: NASA

Although engineers, scientists and manufacturers are still in the process of building all of the instruments that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, they had to figure out long ago, how it was going to "unfold" in space. That's because the Webb Telescope is so big that it has to be folded up for launch. Now, animators have made that "unfolding" come to life in two new videos.

A brand new animation of how NASA's massive next-generation space telescope will open up in space once it achieves orbit, was created by the Image center at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Redondo Beach, Calif. The Webb Telescope is roughly 65 feet (21 meters) from end to end and about 3 stories high.

"Animation helps designers and their colleagues to fully visualize and explain the complex motions required to deploy this observatory," said Mike Herriage, Webb Telescope Deputy Program Manager at Northrop Grumman. "And while it's a visual tool, producing accurate animation is a technical challenge as well."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A brand new animation of how NASA's massive next-generation space telescope will open up in space once it achieves orbit, was created by the Image center at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Redondo Beach, Calif. Credit: Northrop Grumman

The is a large, infrared . It will find the first galaxies that formed in the , connecting the Big Bang to our own . It will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming , connecting the Milky Way to our own .

The Webb Telescope is extremely large and cannot fit in a rocket unless it is folded. It has a sunshield the size of a tennis court and an 18-segment mirror that looks like a honeycomb. Because of its large size, the telescope needs to be folded up to fit in the rocket. The sunshield will be compactly folded, much like a parachute, around the front and back of the telescope. The mirror segments are mounted on the "spine" or backplane of the telescope and the segments on the left and right sides of the honeycomb shape are folded in the rocket.

Once the Webb telescope is on its way to its final orbit, approximately 1 million miles from the Earth, engineers at Northrop Grumman will issue commands to the Webb Telescope to unfold it. "Think of the sunshield as five candy wrappers the size of a tennis court," said Mark Clampin, Webb Telescope Observatory Project Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The animation shows the first part of the telescope to unfold is the solar panel, followed by the communications antenna. Next, the five layers of sunshield will drop into place from the front and back, spread out into a kite shape. The "secondary mirror support structure," an arm-like feature holding the secondary mirror assembly will then drop down from its folded center perch, and finally, the side mirror segments will be moved forward to form the complete "honeycomb."

"There are videos showing a simple deployment and a version that includes detailed views of key points in the sequence," Clampin said. "There are 2 and 4 megabyte versions of each video and they are high definition."

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Explore further: Research pair offer three possible models of Pluto ahead of New Horizons visit

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

22 hours ago

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Meteorite studies suggest hidden water on Mars

23 hours ago

Geochemical calculations by researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology to determine how the water content of Mars has changed over the past 4.5 billion years suggest as yet unidentified reservoirs of water ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.