NASA has achieved another big milestone in its bid to construct a powerful space telescope that can study the universe – with the completion and final installation of the 18 primary mirrors of the James Webb space telescope being done at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
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“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”
The mirrors were installed with a robotic arm, and each hexagonal-shaped mirror measures about 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across and weighs nearly 88 pounds (40 kilograms). All the 18 mirrors will function together as a single unit of 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) instrument after it is fully deployed in space.
"Completing the assembly of the primary mirror is a very significant milestone and the culmination of over a decade of design, manufacturing, testing and now assembly of the primary mirror system," said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager at Goddard. "There is a huge team across the country who contributed to this achievement."
But there is still more work to be done, and this includes installing other necessary optics and conducting required tests of all components to ensure the telescope can stand a rocket launch without failing or crashing, said Bill Ochs, project manager at James Webb Space Telescope.
The mirrors were constructed by Ball Aerospace & Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, a principle subcontractor to Northrop Grumman in the area of optical system design and technology; while the mirrors installation was done by Harris Corporation, also a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman in the area of integration and testing of the space telescope.
“The Harris team will be installing the aft optics assembly and the secondary mirror in order to finish the actual telescope,” said Gary Matthews, director of Universe Exploration at Harris Corporation. “The heart of the telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module, will then be integrated into the telescope. After acoustic, vibration, and other tests at Goddard, we will ship the system down to Johnson Space Center in Houston for an intensive cryogenic optical test to ensure everything is working properly.”
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The James Web Space Telescope will be replacing the Hubble Space Telescope and will be the most powerful space telescope ever constructed. It will launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2018 from French Guiana, and had been the result of an international effort between NASA and the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.