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NIRCam Begins Next Leg On Its Journey To Space

May 3, 2010

NIRCam, the infrared eye of the James Webb Space Telescope, has cleared a key hurdle on its way to a 2014 launch to search for the earliest galaxies in the universe.

A key component of a new orbiting space telescope has cleared an important milestone.

NIRCam, the 0.6 to 5 micron imager for NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, was designed by scientists at the University of Arizona. The NIRCam Engineering Test Unit passed its test phase at Lockheed in Palo Alto, Calif., where it was constructed, and is being shipped to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

It is due to arrive there on May 3.

With its 6.5 meter (21-foot) mirror, JWST will look for the first light-emitting galaxies and star clusters that formed in the universe after the Big Bang. The NIRCam design is optimized for finding first light sources, peering through clouds of dust in space that obscure these objects.

“The camera also includes features that will make it a wonderful tool for studying star formation in the Milky Way Galaxy and for discovering and characterizing planets around other stars,” said Marcia Rieke, an astronomer and professor at the UA Steward Observatory and a principal investigator for the JWST.

The test unit at Lockheed includes one fully functional optical channel and was used to demonstrate that the hardware that will be used in aligning JWST’s mirror segments will work.

The JWST, formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope, is due to launch in 2014.

By Jeff Harrison, University of Arizona

Image Caption: NIRCam, packaged and on its way to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. (photo courtesy Marcia Rieke)

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