Northrop Grumman Completes Backbone of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Northrop Grumman and teammate ATK have completed manufacturing of the backplane support frame (BSF) for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Northrop Grumman is under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the design and development of the Webb Telescope’s optics, sunshield and spacecraft.

When combined with the centre section and wings, the support frame will form the primary mirror backplane support structure, the stable platform that holds the telescope’s beryllium mirrors, instruments and other elements. It holds the 18-segment, 21-foot-diameter primary mirror nearly motionless while the telescope is peering into deep space. The backplane support frame is the backbone of the observatory, is the primary load carrying structure for launch, and holds the science instruments.

JWST backplane support
 
Measuring approximately 24 ft. tall by 19.5 ft. wide by more than 11 ft. deep when fully deployed, and weighing only 2,180 lbs., the fully assembled primary mirror backplane support structure will include the wing assemblies, the centre section and the BSF. This fully populated support structure will support the mission payload and instruments weighing more than 7,300 lbs., or more than 300 percent its own weight.

The support frame was designed and fabricated at the ATK facilities in Magna, Utah, the company designed engineered and constructed the more than 10,000 parts of the entire support structure using lightweight graphite materials, state-of-the-art material sciences and advanced fabrication techniques. The composite parts attach in many cases to precision metallic fittings, made of materials such as invar and titanium that provide interfaces with other elements of the observatory.

Bob Hellekson, ATK’s Webb Telescope program manager said;

It is truly inspiring to participate in ideas that lead to invention and finally this fantastic reality of the PMBSS assembly, it continues to be a privilege and an honor for the ATK team to provide program hardware that is arguably the largest and most advanced cryogenic structure ever built.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built and observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.


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