Engineers solve excessive heat removal from NASA's Webb Telescope

June 5, 2018 by Eric Villard, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Engineers reinstall one of the gold-plated baffles that helps direct heat away from the integrated science instrument module (ISIM) of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. The baffles direct the heat generated by the instrument electronics safely into space and away from any cold areas of the infrared telescope. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

How will NASA's James Webb Space Telescope shed the heat generated by its science instruments and their supporting electronics? To anyone who is not an engineer or scientist, the answer might be complex and "baffling," and it turns out the process is exactly that.

Webb's four science instruments are held within a support structure called the integrated (ISIM), located behind the telescope's primary mirror. The ISIM and Webb's optics form the science payload of the observatory. To keep heat away from the sensitive instruments, a majority of the electronics used to power and operate the instruments are housed in a compartment below ISIM, where specially designed baffles direct the heat safely into space and away from any cold surfaces of the observatory.

The baffles essentially act as mirrors to reflect the heat () outward in a specific direction. If that sounds familiar, it is because Webb's mirrors will do very much the same thing—but instead of reflecting the into space, they will guide it with pinpoint accuracy to the telescope's .

"Gold has a very high reflectivity in the infrared spectrum range, so it is ideal for directing heat," explained Matthew Stephens, a mechanical systems engineer for Webb at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This is the same reason all of the primary, secondary, and tertiary mirrors are gold-coated."

Engineers carefully hold onto a gold-plated baffle as they use a scissor lift to access the back of the integrated science instrument module (ISIM) of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. They are in the process of reinstalling the baffles, which direct the heat generated by the instrument electronics safely into space and away from any cold areas of the infrared telescope. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

The engineers in this photo are reinstalling the baffles, which had been previously removed and safely stored in a clean environment to protect them from any contamination during integration and testing of the science payload. The clear plastic sheets placed over the baffles will protect them from any contamination during the remaining integration and testing phases for the observatory.

The engineers had to reinstall the baffles before Webb's payload and its spacecraft element (the combined spacecraft bus and sunshield) are integrated at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, where both halves of the observatory currently reside. If the engineers wait until after integration, Webb's tennis-court-sized sunshield will obstruct the ISIM electronics compartment and make reinstalling the baffles much more difficult.

Explore further: NASA's Webb telescope emerges from Chamber A

Related Stories

NASA's Webb telescope emerges from Chamber A

December 1, 2017

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, or Webb, emerged from Chamber A at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Dec. 1 to prepare for its upcoming move to California.

Image: Webb Telescope's 'silver and gold decorations'

December 22, 2017

Webb telescope, or Webb, is NASA's upcoming infrared space observatory, which will launch in 2019. The two photos that compose this image highlight two important achievements Webb had in the latter part of 2017.

James Webb Observatory prepares for additional testing

March 12, 2018

Engineers removed the combined optics and science instruments of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope from their shipping container in a high bay at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, on March 8, ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers spot signs of supermassive black hole mergers

October 23, 2018

New research, published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, has found evidence for a large number of double supermassive black holes, likely precursors of gigantic black hole merging events. ...

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.

ALMA maps Europa's temperature

October 23, 2018

Jupiter's icy moon Europa has a chaotic surface terrain that is fractured and cracked, suggesting a long-standing history of geologic activity.

Ultra-close stars discovered inside a planetary nebula

October 23, 2018

An international team of astronomers have discovered two stars in a binary pair that complete an orbit around each other in a little over three hours, residing in the planetary nebula M3-1. Remarkably, the stars could drive ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrwillsj
1 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2018
The damn fools who think they can go tearing off across space. Find an asteroid with a some tonnage of gold &/or other valuable metals. Then to bring that down to Earth to revel in the wealth. The big joke on them is any sizable discovery would crash the Earth markets trading in such infantile greed.

The self-deluding goldrushers would still be owing for the processing of ore, getting it to Earth orbit & for the reaction mass to land it in a $afe, $ecure $tronghold.

Findings of such metals would only retain their potential value if used in space industries.

As is normal most global bullion transactions utilize EFT. The actual bullion has no need to be moved to be used to underwrite financial transactions.

But, I wondered if NASA 'borrowed' the gold used in their satellites? For a fee of course. Launching off into space would be a pretty big safe-deposit box. The gold owners could still trade in their ownership rights. Might even make it's own market?

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.