James Webb Space Telescope passes key mission design review milestone
3 May 2010The James Webb Space Telescope has passed its most significant mission milestone to date, the Mission Critical Design Review. This signifies that the integrated observatory will meet all science and engineering requirements for its mission.
The review also brought together multiple modelling and analysis tools. Because the observatory is too large for validation by actual testing, complex models of how it will behave during launch and in space environments are being integrated. The models are compared with prior test and review results from the observatory's components.
Although the MCDR approved the telescope design and gave the official go-ahead for manufacturing, hardware development on the mirror segments has been in progress for several years in the United States:
- Eighteen primary mirror segments are in the process of being polished and tested by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation. in Boulder, Colorado;
- Manufacturing on the backplane, the structure that supports the mirror segments, is well underway at Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, in Magna, Utah;
- This month, ITT Corporation in Rochester, New York, demonstrated robotic mirror installation equipment designed to position segments on the backplane. The position of the segments will be fine-tuned to tolerances of a fraction of the width of a human hair.
The telescope's sunshield moved into its fabrication and testing phase earlier this year.
The three major elements of Webb - the Integrated Science Instrument Module, Optical Telescope Element, and the spacecraft itself – will proceed through hardware production, assembly, and testing prior to delivery for observatory integration and testing scheduled to begin in 2012.
The Webb is the premier next-generation space observatory for exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The telescope will provide clues about the formation of the Universe and the evolution of our own Solar System, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. The telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.