New Technologies for James Webb Space Telescope Approved Early

May 02, 2007

More than a year ahead of schedule, a team of independent experts has approved all ten new technologies developed for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Many of the technologies are revolutionary and have never before been used on any satellite or space telescope. The early approval can reduce the risk of increased costs and schedule delays before the program is approved for further development.

NASA commissioned the team of engineers, scientists and project managers to conduct the technical review. The group evaluated the telescope's near and mid-infrared detectors, sunshield materials, lightweight cryogenic mirrors, microshutter arrays, cryogenic detector readout application-specific integrated circuits, cryogenic heat switches, a large precision cryogenic structure, a cryocooler for the mid-infrared instrument, and wavefront sensing and control. They determined the technologies were tested successfully in a space-like environment and are mature enough to include on the telescope's upcoming mission.

The actual hardware and software that will fly on the telescope now can be engineered from working prototypes. These technologies will allow the observatory to peer back in time to about 400 million years after the Big Bang, enabling scientists to study the first generation of stars and galaxies.

"The technology non-advocate review was our attempt to address one common problem that NASA missions encounter that leads to cost growth," said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "That problem is late maturation of technology in a program's life-cycle. By conducting an external review of our technologies more than a year ahead of the Preliminary Design Review - when they are traditionally examined - we hope to better manage that aspect of the program's costs."

Two examples of the new technologies are the microshutter arrays and wavefront sensing and control.

Microshutters are tiny doorways, the width of a few hairs, that will allow scientists to remotely and systematically block out unwanted light and view the most distant stars and galaxies ever seen. The telescope will be the first project to employ this technology.

Through a process called wavefront sensing and control, a set of algorithms and software programs, the optimum position of each of the telescope mirrors will be computed, and the positions will be adjusted as necessary, causing the individual mirrors to function as one very sensitive telescope.

"At the inception of the James Webb Space Telescope program, NASA adopted a strategy of making significant, early investments in the development of the diverse and challenging new technologies needed to conduct the mission," said Phil Sabelhaus, project manager at Goddard. "Receiving the review board's confirmation that we have met the goal more than a year early for all of our new technologies is a major accomplishment for our team and a tribute to the benefits of the early investment strategy," Sabelhaus said.

The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch in 2013. The telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA

Explore further: ESA experts assess risk from exploded satellite

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mystery giant Mars plumes still unexplained

Mar 02, 2015

On Feb. 16, an international group of researchers proposed new hypotheses about some unusual plumes spotted by amateur astronomers on Mars in 2012. The plumes were seen rising to altitudes of over 250 km ...

Study of atmospheric 'froth' may help GPS communications

Feb 27, 2015

When you don't know how to get to an unfamiliar place, you probably rely on a smart phone or other device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) module for guidance. You may not realize that, especially at ...

Africa, from a CATS point of view

Feb 26, 2015

From Saharan dust storms to icy clouds to smoke on the opposite side of the continent, the first image from NASA's newest cloud- and aerosol-measuring instrument provides a profile of the atmosphere above ...

Recommended for you

ESA experts assess risk from exploded satellite

16 minutes ago

After studying the recent explosive break-up of a US satellite, ESA space debris experts have concluded this event does not increase the collision risk to nearby ESA missions in any meaningful way.

User comments : 0

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.