THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2010 March 12 

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

JWST: Mirrors and Masked Men
Image Courtesy: Ball Aerospace

Explanation: Who are these masked men? Technicians from Ball Aerospace and NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center's X-ray and Cryogenic Facility, of course, testing primary mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Scheduled for launch in June 2014, JWST will be optimized for the infrared exploration of the early Universe, utilizing a primary mirror 21.3 feet across, composed of 18 hexagonal segments. Here, a group of JWST mirror segments are being prepared for tests to assure they meet the exacting mission requirements. The technicians' suits and masks help prevent contamination of the mirror surfaces. At the Marshall X-ray and Cryogenic Facility, the mirrors are tested in the large circular chamber after evacuating the air and cooling the chamber to -400 degrees Fahrenheit (only 60 Fahrenheit degrees above absolute zero). The extremely low pressure and temperature simulate the JWST mirror operating environment in
space. JWST mirror segment testing will continue for the next 18 months.



The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a planned Infrared Space Observatory, the partial successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope. The JWST will not be a complete successor, because it will NOT be sensitive to all of the light wavelengths that Hubble can see. The main scientific goal is to observe the most distant objects in the universe, those beyond the reach of either ground based instruments or the Hubble. The JWST project is a NASA-led international collaboration with contributors in fifteen nations, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Originally called the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), it was renamed in 2002 after NASA's second administrator, James E. Webb (1906–1992). Webb had headed NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the Johnson administration (1961–68), thus overseeing all the manned launches in the Mercury through Gemini programs, until just before the first manned Apollo flight.

Current plans call for the telescope to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket in June 2014, on a five-year mission (10 year goal).[2] The JWST will reside in solar orbit near the Sun-Earth L2 point, which is on a line passing from the Sun to the Earth, but about 1.5 million km farther away from the Sun than is the Earth. This position, which moves around the Sun in exact orbital synchrony with the Earth, makes it possible for JWST to shield itself from the heat of from both the Sun and the Earth, by using a single radiation shield positioned between the telescope and the Sun-Earth direction.



Webb Telescope Primary Mirror Segment Completes Cryogenic Test
2010 October 26
Kim Newton
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.

Rob Gutro
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Image release: 10-146

The chamber is opened to move the first cryogenically tested  gold-coated engineering development unit out of Marshall's X-ray and  Cryogenic Facility. › Large (2100 x 1397, 300 ppi)
› Medium (516 x 343, 72 ppi)
› Small (100 x 75, 72 ppi)

The chamber is opened to move the first cryogenically tested gold-coated engineering development unit out of Marshall's X-ray and Cryogenic Facility. Each of the 18 mirror Webb telescope primary mirror segments will be tested, re-polished, coated with gold, measured at Ball Aerospace, and finally tested again in the Marshall test facility at cryogenic temperatures before the mirror test program is complete. (NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Last week a primary mirror milestone was met for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope project as the first gold-coated mirror segment finished testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The observatory's giant, 6.5-meter diameter, or 21.3 foot, hexagonal primary mirror will contain 18 flight mirror segments. Each mirror segment is made of beryllium and coated with a microscopically thin coat of gold to enable the mirror to reflect infrared light more effectively.

"We've tested all of the beryllium mirror segments at least once and completed cryogenic testing of the first of the primary mirror segments, the engineering development unit," said Helen Cole, project manager for the Webb Telescope activities at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Now the manufacturing process and gold coating for the rest of the flight mirror segments can be completed."

Cryogenic mirror testing for the Webb Telescope began at the Marshall Center in 2009 and will continue into 2012. Each of the 18 mirror segments will be tested, re-polished, coated with gold, measured at Ball Aerospace, and finally tested again in the Marshall test facility at cryogenic temperatures before the mirror test program is complete.

During cryogenic testing, the mirrors are subjected to extreme temperatures dipping to -415 degrees Fahrenheit in the 7,600 cubic-foot helium-cooled vacuum chamber, which permits NASA engineers to measure in extreme detail how the shape of the mirror changes as it cools -- just as each mirror will change shape over a range of operational temperatures in space. The cryogenic test series helps NASA predict how well the telescope will image infrared sources in those conditions.

The facility at Marshall is the world’s largest X-ray telescope test facility and a unique site for cryogenic, clean-room optical testing.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the Webb telescope, leading a design and development team under contract to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Ball Aerospace is responsible for all mirror development.

The James Webb Space Telescope is NASA's next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, Webb will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the very first galaxies ever formed and help identify unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information about the James Webb Space Telescope, visit:


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Full scale model on display at NASA Goddard

The JWST's primary scientific mission has four main components: to search for light from the first stars and galaxies which formed in the Universe after the Big Bang, to study the formation and evolution of galaxies, to understand the formation of stars and planetary systems, and to study planetary systems and the origins of life.[3] All of these jobs are more effectively done in the near-infrared than the visible.

Due to a combination of redshift, dust obscuration, and the low temperatures of many of the sources to be studied, the JWST must operate at infrared wavelengths, spanning the wavelength range from 0.6 to 28 micrometres. To ensure that the observations are not hampered by infrared emission from the telescope and instruments themselves, the entire observatory must be cold. It must be well-shielded from the Sun so that it can radiatively cool to roughly 40 K (−230 °C, −390 °F). To do this, JWST will incorporate a large metalized fan-fold sunshield, which will unfurl to block infrared radiation from the Sun, Earth and Moon. The telescope's location at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point ensures that the Earth and Sun occupy roughly the same relative position in the telescope's view, and thus make the operation of this shield possible.[4]

The observatory is due to be launched no earlier than June 2014, and is currently scheduled to be launched by an Ariane 5 from Guiana Space Centre Kourou, French Guiana, into an L2 orbit with a launch mass of approximately 6.2 tons. After a commissioning period of approximately six months, the observatory will begin the science mission, which is expected to last a minimum of five years. The potential for extension of the science mission beyond this period exists, and the observatory is being designed accordingly.[5]


A diagram showing the five Lagrangian points of the Sun-Earth system. JWST will be located at L2, where the Earth and sun are directly behind it at all times.

To avoid swamping the faint astronomical signals with radiation from the telescope, the telescope and its instruments must be very cold. JWST has a large shield that blocks the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, which otherwise would heat the telescope and interfere with the observations. To have this work, JWST must be in an orbit where all three of these objects are in about the same direction. The answer was to put JWST in an orbit around the Earth-Sun L2 point.

The L2 orbit is an elliptical orbit about the semi-stable second Lagrange point. The Earth-Sun L2 point, about which the Webb telescope will orbit, is 1.51 million km from the Earth, which is about 3.92 times farther away from Earth than is the moon. This distance underscores how much more difficult the Webb telescope would be to service, after launch.

In the case of JWST, the three bodies involved are the Sun, the Earth and the JWST. Normally, an object circling the Sun further out than the Earth would take more than one year to complete its orbit. However, the balance of gravitational pull at the L2 point (in particular, the extra pull from Earth as well as the Sun) means that JWST will keep up with the Earth as it goes around the Sun. The combined gravitational forces of the Sun and the Earth can hold a spacecraft at this point, so that in theory it takes no rocket thrust to keep a spacecraft in orbit around L2.


A Simulation of JWST's performance. Credit: JWST/NASA/ESA.

Although JWST has a planned mass half that of the Hubble, its primary mirror (a 6.5 meter diameter gold-coated beryllium reflector) has a collecting area which is almost six times larger. As this diameter is much larger than any current launch vehicle, the mirror is composed of 18 hexagonal segments, which will unfold after the telescope is launched. These mirrors are currently being developed by Axsys Technologies in Cullman, Alabama. Sensitive micromotors and a wavefront sensor will position the mirror segments in the correct location, but subsequent to this initial configuration they will only rarely be moved. This process is much like an initial calibration, unlike terrestrial telescopes like the Keck which continually adjust their mirror segments using active optics to overcome the effects of gravitational and wind loading.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is the principal optical subcontractor for the JWST program, led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, under a contract from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.[6] Seventeen additional primary mirror segments, secondary, and tertiary mirrors, plus flight spares, will be delivered to Ball Aerospace from its beryllium mirror manufacturing team that includes Axsys, Brush Wellman, and Tinsley Laboratories. As each additional mirror is delivered to Ball Aerospace over the next year (to 2010), it will be mounted onto a lightweight, actuated strong-back assembly and undergo functional and environmental testing.

NASA has indicated that they will be incorporating microshutters, each about 100 by 200 micrometres, into the optics of the James Webb Space Telescope's Near InfraRed Spectrograph. An array of 62,000 of the shutters will sit in front of the spectrograph's 8-megapixel infrared detector. The microshutters will create an effect similar to a human eye squinting. When one squints, one's eyelashes block light; in the same way, the microshutters allow the telescope to focus on the faint light of stars and galaxies even if they are adjacent to brighter objects.

  Program Status

Comparison with Hubble primary mirror

The JWST program is in the final design and fabrication phase (Phase C). In March 2008, the project successfully completed its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). In April 2008, the project passed the Non-Advocate Review. The next major project milestone is the overall Critical Design Review, currently scheduled for March 2010.

In January 2007 nine of the ten technology development items in the program successfully passed a non-advocate review.[7] These technologies were deemed sufficiently mature to retire significant risks in the program. The remaining technology development item (the MIRI cryocooler) completed its technology maturation milestone in April 2007. This technology review represented the beginning step in the process that ultimately moved the program into its detailed design phase (Phase C).

In April 2006 the program was independently reviewed following a replanning phase begun in August 2005. The review concluded the program was technically sound, but that funding phasing at NASA needed to be changed. NASA has rephased its JWST budgets accordingly. The August 2005 replanning was necessitated by the cost growth revealed in Spring 2005.[8] The primary technical outcomes of the replanning are significant changes in the integration and test plans, a 22-month launch delay (from 2011 to 2013), and elimination of system level testing for observatory modes at wavelength shorter than 1.7 micrometres. Other major features of the observatory are unchanged following the replanning efforts.

As of the 2005 re-plan, the life-cycle cost of the project was estimated at about US$4.5 billion. This comprises approximately US$3.5 billion for design, development, launch and commissioning, and approximately US$1.0 billion for ten years of operations.[8] ESA is contributing about 300million, including the launch,[9] and the Canadian Space Agency about $39M Canadian.[10] As of May 2007[update] costs were still on target.[11]

  Construction and Engineering

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is leading the management of the observatory project. The project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope is John C. Mather. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems serves as the primary contractor for the development and integration of the observatory. They are responsible for developing and building the spacecraft element, which includes both the spacecraft bus and sunshield. Ball Aerospace has been subcontracted to develop and build the Optical Telescope Element (OTE). Goddard Space Flight Center is also responsible for providing the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM).[6]

The ISIM contains four science instruments.[12] NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera) is an infrared imager which will have a spectral coverage ranging from the edge of the visible (0.6 micrometres) through the Near Infrared (5 micrometres).[13] The NIRCam will also serve as the observatory's wavefront sensor, which is required for wavefront sensing and control activities. The NIRCam is being built by a team led by the University of Arizona, with Principal Investigator Marcia Rieke. The industrial partner is Lockheed-Martin's Advanced Technology Center located in Palo Alto, California.[14]

In addition to the Near Infrared (NIR) imaging capabilities of the NIRCam, the observatory will also perform spectrography over this range with the NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph). NIRSpec is being built by the European Space Agency at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, leading a team involving EADS Astrium, Ottobrunn, and Friedrichshafen, Germany, and the Goddard Space Flight Center: the NIRSpec project scientist is Peter Jakobsen. The NIRSpec design provides 3 observing modes: a low resolution mode using a prism, an R~1000 multi-object mode and an R~2700 integral field unit or long-slit spectroscopy mode.[15] Switching of the modes is done by operating a wavelength preselection mechanism called Filter Wheel Assembly and selecting a correspondent dispersive element (prism or grating) using the Grating Wheel Assembly mechanism. Both mechanisms are based on the successful ISOPHOT wheel mechanisms of the Infrared Space Observatory. The mechanisms and their optical elements are being designed, integrated and tested by Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH of Oberkochen, Germany, under contract from Astrium.

The mid-IR wavelength range will be measured by the MIRI (Mid InfraRed Instrument), which contains both a mid-IR camera and spectrometer that has a spectral range extending from 5 to 27 micrometres.[16] MIRI is being developed as a collaboration between NASA and a consortium of European countries, and is led by George Rieke (University of Arizona) and Gillian Wright (UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh, part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)).[14] MIRI features similar wheel mechanisms as NIRSpec which are also developed and built by Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH under contract from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg.

The FGS (Fine Guidance Sensor), led by the Canadian Space Agency under project scientist John Hutchings (Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria), is used to stabilize the line-of-sight of the observatory during science observations and also includes a Tunable Filter module for astronomical narrow-band imaging in the 1.5 to 5 micrometre wavelength range.[14][17] The infrared detectors for both the NIRCam and NIRSpec modules are being provided by Teledyne Imaging Sensors (formerly Rockwell Scientific Company).

NASA is considering plans to add a grapple feature so future spacecraft might visit the observatory to fix gross deployment problems, such as a stuck solar panel or antenna. However, the telescope itself would not be serviceable, so that astronauts would not be able to perform tasks such as swapping instruments, as with the Hubble Telescope.[18][19][20][21] Final approval for such an addition was to be considered as part of the Preliminary Design Review in March 2008.

Most of the data processing on the telescope is done by conventional single board computers.[22] The conversion of the analog science data to digital form is performed by the custom-built SIDECAR ASIC (System for Image Digitization, Enhancement, Control And Retrieval Application Specific Integrated Circuit). It is said that the SIDECAR ASIC will include all the functions of a 20-pound instrument box in a package the size of a half-dollar, and consume only 11 milliwatts of power. Since this conversion must be done close to the detectors, on the cool side of the telescope, the low power use of this IC will be important for maintaining the low temperature required for optimal operation of the JWST.[23]

  Ground Support

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland has been selected as the Science and Operations Center (S&OC) for JWST. In this capacity, STScI will be responsible for the scientific operation of the telescope and delivery of data products to the astronomical community.[5]

 Public Displays

In May 2007 a full-scale model of the telescope was assembled for display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, Washington DC. The model was intended to give the viewing public a better understanding of the size, scale and complexity of the satellite. The model is significantly different from the telescope, as the model must withstand gravity and weather, so is constructed mainly of aluminum and steel measuring approximately 24 m (79 ft) x 12 m (39 ft) x 12 m (39 ft) and weighs 5.5 tonnes (12,000 lb).

The model has been on display at various places since 2005: Seattle, Washington; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Paris, France; Greenbelt, Maryland; Rochester, New York; Orlando, Florida; Dublin, Ireland; Montreal, Canada; Hatfield, United Kingdom and Munich, Germany. The model was built by the main contractor, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.[24]

  See Also

Search Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons has media related to: James Webb Space Telescope


  1. ^ "JWST Home Page". NASA. http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/. Retrieved 2010-03-011. 
  2. ^ jwst.nasa.gov
  3. ^ Maggie Masetti; Anita Krishnamurthi (2009). "JWST Science". NASA. http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/science.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  4. ^ Maggie Masetti; Anita Krishnamurthi (2009). "Why does JWST need to be at L2 publisher=NASA". http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/l2_moreinfo.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  5. ^ a b Gardner, p. 588.
  6. ^ a b Gardner, table XV, p. 597
  7. ^ "JWST Passes NTAR". STScI. http://www.stsci.edu/jwst/project_highlights/tnar.html. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  8. ^ a b John Mather. "James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)" (PDF). National Academy of Science. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bpa/CAA_Nov2005_Presentation_Mather.pdf. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  9. ^ "European agreement on James Webb Space Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) signed". Press release. 9 June 2004. http://www.esa.int/esaSC/Pr_10_2004_s_en.html. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  10. ^ "Canadian Space Agency: Canada's Contribution to NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.". Canadian Corporate News. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5559/is_/ai_n22557603. Retrieved 2008-09-06. 
  11. ^ Brian Berger. "NASA Adds Docking Capability For Next Space Observatory". Space News. http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070523_techwed_jwst_dock.html. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  12. ^ Gardner, p. 560.
  13. ^ Gardner, p. 574.
  14. ^ a b c "JWST Current Status". STScI. http://www.stsci.edu/jwst/overview/status.html. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  15. ^ Gardner, p. 578.
  16. ^ Gardner, p. 580
  17. ^ Gardner, p. 585
  18. ^ Brian Berger (23 May 2007). "NASA Adds Docking Capability For Next Space Observatory". Space. http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070523_techwed_jwst_dock.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  19. ^ Craig Covault (21 January 2008). "Moon Stuck: Space leaders work to replace lunar base with manned asteroid missions". Aviation Week & Space Technology: p. 24. http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0801/18avweek/. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  20. ^ David Shiga (24 May 2007). "Hubble's successor could be fixed in space after all". NewScientist. http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn11925-hubbles-successor-could-be-fixed-in-space-after-all.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  21. ^ "Possibility of future space vehicle visits to JWST". NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2007/jwst_grapple.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  22. ^ "FBO DAILY ISSUE OF OCTOBER 30, 2002 FBO #0332". http://www.fbodaily.com/archive/2002/10-October/30-Oct-2002/FBO-00195113.htm. 
  23. ^ "Amazing Miniaturized 'SIDECAR' Drives Webb Telescope's Signal". NASA. 2008-02-20. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/jwst_digital.html. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  24. ^ Webb Slinger Heads To Washington, accessed 8 May 2007

Further Reading

  External Links

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