NASA Receives First Two Webb Mirrors
September 25, 2012

Two Webb Telescope Mirrors Arrive At NASA Goddard

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA said on Monday that the first two of 18 primary mirrors for its James Webb Space Telescope have arrived at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The mirrors are going through receiving and inspection, and will be stored in the Goddard cleanroom until engineers are ready to install them onto the telescope's backplane structure, according to the space agency.

Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado is building Webb's optical technology and lightweight mirror system.

The company shipped the first two mirrors in custom containers on September 17. The containers were designed specifically for the multiple trips the mirrors made through eight states.

The remaining 16 mirrors will be making their way from Ball Aerospace to Goddard over the next 12 months, according to NASA.

"These first two completed flight mirror assemblies arriving at Goddard are an important first step leading towards the integration of the mirrors onto the flight structure," Lee Feinberg, NASA Optical Telescope Element Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope, said in a statement. "These delivered flight mirrors meet their requirements, which is great news for Webb telescope being able to fulfill its scientific potential."

The space agency said one of the telescope's goals is to peek back through time when galaxies were young, and see far-off and faint objects.

The telescope's sensitivity to how much detail it can see is directly related to the size of the mirror area that collects light from the objects being observed. A larger area collects more light, similar to how a larger bucket collects more water.

Scientists working on Webb determined that a primary mirror 21-feet, 4-inches is what was needed to measure the light from distant galaxies.

Each of the 18 hexagonal-shaped mirror assemblies that make up the primary mirror measures 4.2-feet across and weighs about 88 pounds.

Webb will be they first space astronomy observatory to use an actively-controlled, segmented mirror. The telescope will be studying every phase of the universe's history, as well as planets capable of supporting life.