Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. has completed all performance testing for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope aft-optics subsystem (AOS) under contract to the Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Since May of 2012, the AOS has undergone a series of tests including thermal and vibration, followed by cryogenic testing to demonstrate that it can withstand the rigorous vibration environment of the rocket launch and remain precisely aligned in order to function at extremely cold temperatures in space. The AOS will remain at Ball Aerospace to be used during integrated testing with the flight actuator drive unit and AOS source plate assembly. This AOS is the final optical subsystem of the James Webb Optical Telescope Element to complete integration and test activities at Ball Aerospace.
“Each optical element that Ball Aerospace is building for the Webb is extremely sophisticated and the successful completion of another milestone brings us one day closer to the launch of NASA’s next major space observatory,” said Ball Aerospace President and CEO David L. Taylor.
The AOS is a precision beryllium rectangular optical bench that houses the tertiary and the fine steering mirror installed at the center of Webb’s primary mirror. The AOS is surrounded by a shroud that eliminates stray light, and two large radiator panels that keep the assembly cold. This subsystem collects and focuses the light from the secondary mirror and feeds it into the science instruments.
Ball is the principal subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the optical technology and lightweight mirror system for NASA’s Webb Telescope. In total, Ball has designed and delivered the Webb’s 18 beryllium primary mirror segments, secondary and tertiary mirrors, a fine steering mirror, and several engineering development units.
In September 2012, Ball began the process of shipping the finished Webb primary mirrors to Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The remaining mirrors will arrive at Goddard this year, awaiting telescope integration in 2015. The Webb is on track for an October 2018 liftoff.
The Webb telescope is critical for future infrared observations and will serve as the premier observatory of the next decade.