James Webb Telescope Completes Optical Milestone
January 17, 2013

NASA And Ball Aerospace Bring James Webb Telescope One Step Closer To Completion

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Another milestone was recently met by the engineering team working on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope when they completed performance testing on the observatory's aft-optics system (AOS). Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. — the principal subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the optical technology and lightweight mirror system — conducted the testing at their facilities in Boulder, Colo.

"Completing Aft Optics System performance testing is significant because it means all of the telescope's mirror systems are ready for integration and testing," said Lee Feinberg, NASA Optical Telescope Element Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The AOS has gone through a series of thermal, vibration, and cryogenic testing since last May to demonstrate that it can withstand the intense vibrations of the rocket launch and remain precisely aligned. The testing also proves that the AOS will function at the extremely cold temperatures in space.

The AOS, which is the final optical subsystem in the Webb's Optical Telescope Element to complete integration and test activities at Ball Aerospace, will remain at the Ball facility to be used in integrated testing with the flight actuator drive unit and AOS source plate assembly.

"Each optical element that Ball Aerospace builds for the Webb is extremely sophisticated," said David L. Taylor, Ball Aerospace's president and chief executive officer. "The successful completion of another milestone brings us one day closer to the launch of NASA´s next major space observatory."

Both a shroud to eliminate stray light and two large radiator panels that keep the assembly cold surround the AOS, a precision beryllium rectangular optical bench that houses the tertiary and the fine steering mirror installed at the center of Webb's primary mirror.

Ball will begin the process of shipping the finished Webb primary to NASA's Goddard facility in September 2012. The remaining mirrors will arrive at Goddard in 2013 to be integrated into the telescope in 2015. Currently, the Webb telescope is on track for an October 2018 liftoff.

The world's next generation space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope is a worthy successor to the Hubble Space Telescope as the most powerful telescope ever built. The Webb - a joint project of NASA, the Europeans Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency - will observe the most distant objects in the universe, providing scientists with images of the first galaxies ever formed and unexplored planets around distant stars.