Webb sunshield gives an 'open wide' for inspection

August 12, 2015 by Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
In this photo, engineers and scientists examine the sunshield layers on this full-sized test unit. Credit: Alex Evers/Northrop Grumman Corporation

The sunshield on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is the largest part of the observatory—five layers of thin, silvery membrane that must unfurl reliably in space. The precision in which the tennis-court sized sunshield has to open must be no more than a few centimeters different from its planned position.

In this photo, engineers and scientists examine the sunshield layers on this full-sized test unit.

Because there's a layer of the shiny silver material on the base under the five layers of the sunshield, it appears as if the sunshield has a mouth that is "open wide" while engineers take a look. The photo was taken in a clean room at Northrop Grumman Corporation, Redondo Beach, California.

The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold side where the sunshine is blocked from interfering with the sensitive infrared instruments. The infrared instruments need to be kept very cold (under 50 K or -370 degrees Fahrenheit) to operate. The sunshield protects these sensitive instruments with an effective , or SPF, of 1,000,000. Sunscreen generally has an SPF of 8 to 50.

In addition to providing a cold environment, the sunshield provides a thermally stable environment. This stability is essential to maintaining proper alignment of the primary mirror segments as the telescope changes its orientation to the sun.

Earlier this year, the first flight layer of the sunshield was delivered to Northrop Grumman. Northrop Grumman is designing the Webb Telescope's sunshield for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. Innovative sunshield membranes are being designed and manufactured by NeXolve Corporation of Huntsville, Alabama.

Explore further: James Webb Space Telescope sunshield test unfolds seamlessly

Related Stories

James Webb Space Telescope sunshield test unfolds seamlessly

October 3, 2014

(Phys.org) —A major test of the sunshield for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was conducted recently by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. For the first time, the five sunshield test layers were unfolded and ...

Video: The Webb Space Telescope's sunshield

December 12, 2013

The newest video in the "Behind the Webb" series takes viewers behind the scenes to reveal how the pieces that make up each layer of the James Webb Space Telescope's thin sunshield are bonded together.

Tests under way on the sunshield for Webb telescope

September 19, 2011

NASA is testing an element of the sunshield that will protect the James Webb Space Telescope's mirrors and instruments during its mission to observe the most distant objects in the universe.

Recommended for you

Student discovers slowest ever pulsar star

October 23, 2018

An approximately 14 million year old pulsar star that is the "slowest-spinning" of its kind ever identified has been discovered by a Ph.D. student from The University of Manchester.

NASA's First Image of Mars from a CubeSat

October 23, 2018

NASA's MarCO mission was designed to find out if briefcase-sized spacecraft called CubeSats could survive the journey to deep space. Now, MarCO—which stands for Mars Cube One—has Mars in sight.

0 comments

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.