The James Webb Space Telescope is a large space telescope, optimized for infrared wavelengths. It is scheduled for launch later in this decade. Webb will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Webb will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. Webb's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.
Webb will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter, and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. The mirror and sunshade won't fit into a rocket fully open, so both will be folded and open once Webb is in outer space. Webb will reside in an orbit about 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from the Earth at the second Lagrange point.
The James Webb Space Telescope was named after a former NASA Administrator.
This is another milestone that helps move Webb closer to its launch date in 2018," said Geoff Yoder, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope program director, NASA Headquarters, Washington.
Designed, built and set to be tested by ATK at its facilities in Magna, Utah, the wing assemblies are extremely complex, with 900 separate parts made of lightweight graphite composite materials using advanced fabrication techniques. ATK assembled the wing assemblies like a puzzle with absolute precision. ATK and teammate Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., completed the fabrication.
"We will measure the accuracy down to nanometers -- it will be an incredible engineering and manufacturing challenge," said Bob Hellekson, ATK's Webb Telescope program manager. "With all the new technologies that have been developed during this program, the Webb telescope has helped advance a whole new generation of highly skilled ATK engineers, scientists and craftsmen while helping the team create a revolutionary telescope."
When fully assembled, the primary mirror backplane support structure will measure about 24 feet by 21 feet and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The backplane must be very stable, both structurally and thermally, so it does not introduce changes in the primary mirror shape, and holds the instruments in a precise position with respect to the telescope. While the telescope is operating at a range of extremely cold temperatures, from minus 406 to minus 360 degrees Fahrenheit, the backplane must not vary more than 38 nanometers (about one one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair). The thermal stability requirements for the backplane are unprecedented.
"Our ATK teammates demonstrated the thermal stability on test articles before building the wing assemblies with the same design, analysis, and manufacturing techniques. One of the test articles ATK built and tested is actually larger than a wing," said Charlie Atkinson, deputy Webb Optical Telescope Element manager for Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, Calif. "The mirrors are attached to the wings, as well as the rest of the backplane support structure, so the alignment is critical. If the wings distort, then the mirror distorts, and the images formed by the telescope would be distorted."
The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built and observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.