Composite Wing Assemblies Completed for NASA Space Telescope Project

ATK and Northrop Grumman Corporation have completed the fabrication of the primary mirror backplane support structure wing assemblies for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

The primary mirror backplane supports the telescope’s 18 beryllium mirrors, instruments and other elements during ground test operations and launch. ATK designed and built the 900 composite parts of the wing assembly using lightweight graphite materials and advanced fabrication techniques. The deployable wing sections complete the backplane structure while providing thermal stability, and their unique folding design permits the telescope to fit in the five metre fairing of the launch vehicle.

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after the NASA administrator who crafted the Apollo program is a large, infrared-optimised space telescope. The project is working to a 2018 launch date. 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 metres (21.3 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won’t fit onto a rocket fully open, so both will fold up 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.


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