Webb Telescope's Critical Protective Sunshield Now Fully Installed

“Imagine you are the telescope”, note the engineers standing where the telescope will within its protective 5-layer sunshield. Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman

A piece of hardware critical to the success of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by preventing background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with the telescope’s sensitive infrared instruments is now fully installed, completed at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California earlier this week.

This is a huge milestone for the Webb telescope as we prepare for launch,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The groundbreaking tennis-court sized sunshield will protect the optics from heat making it possible to gather images of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago.”

All five sunshield membranes have been installed and will be folded over the next few weeks,” added Paul Geithner, deputy project manager – technical for the Webb telescope at Goddard.

The five layers of the sunshield, which will protect the telescope in space. Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman

Deployment tests will occur this month, which are critical because if the sunshield does not open in space, the telescope will not be able to science properly and the mission, along with years of work (entire careers) and billions of dollars, will be lost.

The five sunshield membrane layers are each as thin as a single human hair, yet can reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the JWST by an incredible 570 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s equivalent to SPF 1 million sunblock.

Deployed, the sunshield is the size of a tennis court.

The other piece of the telescope, its optics and science instruments, are currently in deep freeze undergoing 93 days of final cryogenic thermal vacuum testing before launch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX, within the enormous and historic “Chamber A”.

It will be shipped to Northrop early next year, for final assembly with the sunshield and become the completed JWST observatory, then packed for shipment to its launch site in South America for flight in October 2018 to the Lagrange Point 2 (L2), one million miles away.

But the launch may now be delayed a few months, into 2019, due to a scheduling conflict with a time-sensitive mission to explore Mercury which has already faced numerous delays.

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11 comments to Webb Telescope’s Critical Protective Sunshield Now Fully Installed

  • perry lewis

    THAT IS GREAT THIS WONDER OF SCIENCE TELESCOPE IS CLOSE TO READY FOR USE BUT WHY IS AN AMERICAN PIECE OF SPACE EQUIPMENT GOING TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY FOR LAUNCHING INTO SPACE THEIR ARE PLENTY OF AMERICANS THAT WOULD BE MORE THEN PROUD TO LAUNCH AND AMERICAN MADE AMERICAN TESTED TELESCOPE SO WHY IS IT BEING SENT OUT OF THIS COUNTRY FOR MORE MONEY TO LEAVE THIS COUNTRY TO PROMOTE ANOTHER LUNCH COMPLEX. MY TAX MONEY WENT INTO LAUNCH PADS HERE IN THE US LIKE KENNEDY OR CAPE CANAVERAL FL SO WHY NOT LAUNCH THEIR WHY!!!

  • Tracy the Troll

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope#Partnership

    Ok so this really is ISS2 with over 20 countries participating….

    “With the combined U.S. and international funding, the overall cost not including extended operations is projected to be over $10 billion when completed.”

    “The committee charged that the project was “billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management”.

    Is the delay and cost overruns a result of country participation or was the technology for this machine not really ready and had to be created?

    • se jones

      reply to Tracy

      “…or was the technology for this machine not really ready and had to be created?”

      BINGO. Projects like Webb are not immune to politics, wishful thinking, salesmanship and “too big to fail”.
      IIRC, the Webb’s Microshutter Array was only at TRL-2 when the telescope was approved. The array turned out to be an expensive nightmare.

      Manned programs are especially prone to low TRL wishful thinking and too-big-to-fail. The Orion heat shield, the Ares I air-start RS-25, and the SLS Friction Stir Welding rig are among the worst cases.

      On-the-other-hand, some programs at very high TRL, were killed for short sighted reasons. Two egregious cases (that I’m still bitter about) were the The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) and the Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NERVA) program. The NERVA XE engines were at TRL-6, ready for flight test, but the RIFT (Reactor-In-Flight-Test) program was rejected by NASA so…no go.
      The SIM Space Interferometry telescope was one of the most thoroughly wrung-out technologies ever. SIM would revolutionize astronomy at a modest cost, but poor salesmanship by the principle investigators and competition from other missions, nipped the wonderful SIM in the bud.

      Technology Readiness Levels

      TRL-1 Basic principles observed and reported
      TRL-2 Technology concept and/or application formulated
      TRL-3 Analytical critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept
      TRL-4 Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory
      TRL-5 Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment
      TRL-6 Model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
      TRL-7 Prototype demonstration in a space environment
      TRL-8 Actual system “flight qualified” through test and demonstration in space
      TRL-8 Actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations

      • Tracy the Troll

        Se Jones,
        Thank you for the very helpful understanding of the TRLs and how this works. Others in the past have stated that the Webb telescope will be able to see continents of exoplanets. Do you agree?

        • se jones

          reply to Tracy

          Webb telescope will be able to see continents of exoplanets. Do you agree?

          The short answer is NO. Even the gigantic new generation of ground based telescopes, like the Ø39m Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will only be able to see some exoplanets as a separate dot of light next to the star they orbit.

          However…using Webb’s spectrometers to tease out the light reflected (or refracted by an atmosphere) from an exoplanet from the light of the star it orbits, it may just be possible to infer [infer not “see”] that an exoplanet has an atmosphere. And, if we are very lucky to find a nearby exoplanet that rotates at a different period than its “year”, it may be just possible to infer that one side of the planet is rocky and the other side has an ocean, for instance. But, that’s a long long way from “seeing continents”.

          The Webb space telescope is much larger than Hubble, but Webb is an infrared telescope whereas Hubble is an optical/ultraviolet telescope, this means Webb’s angular resolution (“sharpness”) isn’t any better that Hubble. So no… there won’t be pictures of the Apollo hardware on the moon or continents on exoplanets. Sorry.

          The Extremely Large Telescope
          https://www.eso.org/public/usa/teles-instr/elt/

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