Webb Telescope Video Sewn Up
December 11, 2013

New Video Shows NASA ‘Sewing Up’ The Webb Space Telescope

[ Watch The Video: Behind The Webb Episode - All Sewn Up ]

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

How do you build a space telescope? NASA's "Behind the Webb" series of videos that follow the construction and testing as the James Webb Space Telescope is being pieced together. Host Mary Estacion takes you behind the scenes to talk to the people building this state-of-the-art observatory.

The newest video in the series, called "All Sewn Up," reveals how the pieces that make up each layer of the James Webb's thin sunshield are bonded together.

NASA's Webb telescope has a five-layer sunshield—as large as a tennis court—to help keep the infrared instruments aboard as cold as possible by blocking out heat and light.

The new video was produced at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSci) in Baltimore. It takes viewers behind the scenes with engineers who are testing and creating the Webb's components.

"All Sewn Up" lasts just over 4 minutes, during which time Estacion takes the viewer to the Mantech facility in Huntsville, Alabama, to find out just how engineers on the ground are working with the sunshield layers and binding them together.

John Cranston is the sunshield process engineer at Mantech's NeXolve Corporation. In an interview with Estacion, he described Kapton, the raw material that creates the sunshield. NeXolve, a subsidiary of ManTech International Corporation, completed the manufacturing of all template layers for the Webb Telescope sunshield.

Cranston introduced viewers to Kapton in the video, and explained how the aluminum and silicon coatings that are applied to some sunshield layers work.

Each layer is made of at least 55 gores, or individual pieces, of Kapton bonded together. Each layer is also shaped slightly differently. The first layer will face the sun and be the hottest. The fifth layer, in contrast, will be the farthest from the sun, facing the telescope and instruments, and so will be the coolest.

It is vital to the sunshield's performance that the extremely thin gores bond together to form precise shapes. This precision presented a significant engineering challenge because glue would add too much mass.

The video takes viewers to see the individual pieces being seamed together by a thermal welding technique on what is called the "spot bonding machine," which applies just the right amount of heat to the material in a small spot in order to fuse the gores together without burning through.

The "Behind the Webb" video series is available in HQ, large and small QuickTime formats, HD, Large and Small WMV formats, and HD, Large and Small Xvid formats.