April 27, 2012

Northrop Grumman’s key spacecraft structure for Webb telescope passes design review

Written by: Staff
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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope continues to move ahead rapidly, with Northrop Grumman completing engineering design of the structure that supports the sunshield and keeps it aligned.

The sunshield support structure has passed its Critical Design Review and is now ready to be manufactured. The structure will hold the sunshield in rigid alignment with the spacecraft so that Webb’s primary mirrors stay in the sun’s shadow and are able to remain cold to detect very faint infrared light.

“This sunshield support structure balances the sunshield’s weight and tension so that it remains stable. The structure is very strong, yet quite light, weighing only 63 kilograms or 139 pounds, while supporting the sunshield itself, which weighs 700 kilograms or 1,543 pounds,” explained Andy Cohen, Webb spacecraft manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The spacecraft is the foundation for the entire observatory and it provides the stability, strength and vibration suppression that allows the telescope to operate as designed.”

The sunshield support structure also serves to align and stabilize the 30-foot-long sunshield deployment palettes on either side of the telescope. As the telescope unfolds in space after launch, the palettes move from vertical to horizontal and provide a platform for the sunshield layers to unfurl. Keeping the sunshield’s alignment from drifting is critical to ensuring that the mirrors stay in the sun’s shadow.

Work on Webb’s spacecraft continues to move forward with a primary spacecraft model completed at the company’s engineering and manufacturing facility in Redondo Beach. The model will be used for integration and access planning and development.

Northrop Grumman is under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. for the design and development of Webb’s sunshield, telescope and spacecraft.

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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