April 3, 2012

First spacecraft flight recorder for Webb telescope delivered to Northrop Grumman

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – The solid-state electronics unit that will capture the James Webb Space Telescope’s science and engineering data has been completed and delivered to Northrop Grumman by its teammate SEAKR Engineering, Inc., Centennial, Colo.

“Without science data, there would be no mission, so this is a very important milestone for the Webb program,” said Scott Willoughby, vice president, Webb program manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “All the digital data Webb gathers about our universe, as it was 13.5 billion years ago, is stored on the onboard solid state recorder until it is delivered to the world’s scientists.”

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

“We are proud to be able to contribute to this ground-breaking NASA science mission,” said Chris Miller, senior vice president of Programs, SEAKR Engineering, Inc. “We had a few challenges during development of this recorder which the team worked very hard to overcome and make this delivery a reality. For nearly 30 years, we’ve delivered more than 100 spacecraft data processing systems and to date, we have had a 100 percent on-orbit success rate. SEAKR is confident the Webb Telescope recorder will continue this tradition.”

Operating like a digital video recorder, the spacecraft flight unit records all science data together with continuous engineering “state of health” telemetry for the entire observatory 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The recorder’s capacity is 58.9 GB, and it is manufactured to withstand the extreme environment of space. The data is downloaded to the ground station when the telescope communicates with Earth during a four-hour window every 12 hours.

The receiving center for Webb’s data will be NASA’s Deep Space Network, which supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations. The Network currently consists of three deep-space communications facilities placed approximately 120 degrees apart around the world: at Goldstone, in California’s Mojave Desert; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. This strategic placement allows for constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates, and helps make the Network the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world.

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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