November 29, 2004

Ball Helps Build Hubble Heir

James Webb telescope will have mirror support system made in Boulder

BOULDER - As the Hubble Space Telescope nears its final few years of duty, its successor is being built in Boulder.

The next generation James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to replace the Hubble in 2010, and Boulder-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. again is helping to build the nation's leading mechanical space explorer. Ball Aerospace helped construct the 14- year-old Hubble, which looks deep into space at distant galaxies, planets and stars.

James Webb will do much of the same, but with a more powerful eye aided by a 22-foot-wide mirror system and an infrared camera. The combination will give James Webb seven times the light gathering ability of Hubble, said Mark Bergeland, program manager of the James Webb Space Telescope at Ball Aerospace.

"In a sense, these telescopes are like time machines looking at light produced by stars billions of years ago," Bergeland said. Scientists project that James Webb will be able to look back more than 10 billion years at the infrared light from the first stars when the universe was only 200 million years old.

Ball Aerospace has a $220 million contract to produce its part of the $1.6 billion James Webb project. About 70 full-time equivalent Ball Aerospace employees will be working on the project at its peak, Bergeland said. Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Space Technology is the prime contractor for the job, and Ball Aerospace is the principal subcontractor.

Ball Aerospace developed and is building the lightweight beryllium mirror support system, which will unfold 18 hexagonal mirrors to create one large 22-foot-wide mirror. Each of the 4.3- foot-wide mirror segments will have its own control mechanism that will allow NASA to adjust the mirror positions and achieve the sharpest possible focus for the combined single mirror. The James Webb mirror will be 2.5 times the diameter of the mirror on Hubble, yet weigh only one-third as much.

Scott Murry of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Inc. works on a one- sixth-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope at the company's facility in Boulder. The new telescope will replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2010.

Still five years away from launch, Ball Aerospace currently is building a one-sixth-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope in Boulder. The model will allow the company to test the telescope's mechanical abilities before it begins building the real thing in 2008.

NASA recently awarded Jefferson County's Lockheed Martin plant a $330 million contract to help design and build a robotic spacecraft to fix Hubble, that would keep it operational until the James Webb can replace it. The robotic space mission would take the place of a previously planned manned mission, which was scrapped after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Bergeland said Ball Aerospace has two instruments worth $167 million that it hopes to send up with the service mission or on another spacecraft. However, he said that NASA has yet to decide whether it will include Ball's Wide Field Camera 3 and its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph as part of its plans.

When Hubble reaches the end of its lifespan at the end of this decade, Bergeland said boosters will guide the then near 20-year- old telescope to crash on a remote part of the Earth.

Besides Hubble and James Webb, Ball Aerospace's Boulder facility is busy constructing several other science satellites to be launched into space within the next year. The company's Deep Impact project will launch in December, sending a satellite to encounter a comet in July 2005. The Deep Impact spacecraft will fire part of itself into the course of the comet to create an impact and scattering of comet debris. The remaining part of the spacecraft will then collect data to study the composition of comets.

In the spring of 2005, Ball Aerospace will launch two satellites - CloudSat and Calipso-to study the properties of Earth's clouds.

A rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope as it will appear in space 940,000 miles from Earth. Ball Aerospace developed and is building the lightweight beryllium mirror support system, which will unfold 18 hexagonal mirrors to create one large 22-foot-wide mirror. The shield will be about the size of a tennis court.


Staff Writer

Contact David Clucas at (303) 440-4950 ore-mail [email protected]

Copyright The Boulder County Business Report Oct 29-Nov 11, 2004