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.
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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