March 26, 2012

Northrop Grumman continues progress on space telescope spacecraft

Written by: Staff
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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – An important spacecraft component that will enable NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to deliver clear images passed its Critical Design Review at Northrop Grumman.

Now cleared for manufacturing, it represents an important step in the spacecraft’s progress.

Acting as a suspension system, the component is a spider-shaped vibration isolator with four flexible tubes made of graphite composite. They are lined with material that is designed to absorb vibrations. The isolator is seated between the spacecraft and the large tower that supports the primary mirror.

“The spacecraft has multiple mechanisms that cause vibration, such as spinning reaction wheels and the compressor on the cryocooler for the Mid-Infrared Instrument,” explains Andy Cohen, Webb Spacecraft manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The key to precision alignment and vibration suppression is that it keeps the telescope in the shadow of the sunshield, where it must stay to operate properly.”

In space, there is no atmosphere to slow vibrations down, so they last longer. In addition, unlike warm components, cold components are more susceptible to vibrations, so it is important to isolate the cold telescope and instruments from this type of movement. The isolator’s job is to suppress vibration from the spacecraft so that the mirror remains still and captures clear images, similar to the way a camera will take clear photos as long as it’s held steady.

With this review recently completed, the spacecraft and its components are moving forward rapidly to support a launch in late 2018.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor responsible for designing and developing the telescope for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory. It will be 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 study 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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