Space & Technology

August 7, 2017

Sunshield layers fully integrated on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

The five sunshield layers responsible for protecting the optics and instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are now fully installed.

Northrop Grumman, which designed the Webb telescope’s optics, spacecraft bus, and sunshield for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, integrated the final flight layers into the sunshield subsystem.

Designed by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, Calif., the sunshield layers work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each successive layer of the sunshield, which is made of Kapton, is cooler than the one below.

“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,” said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager — technical for the Webb telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The Webb telescope’s sunshield will prevent the background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors. The five sunshield membrane layers that were manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, are each as thin as a human hair. The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style into an Ariane 5 rocket.

The Webb telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Webb Telescope will observe 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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