The final three of 18 primary mirrors built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. for the James Webb Space Telescope have arrived at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. for integration prior to a scheduled launch in 2018.
Once on orbit, the 18 hexagonal mirror segments will work together as one 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) primary mirror, the largest mirror ever flown in space and the first to deploy in space.† Ball Aerospace also developed the secondary mirror, tertiary mirror, and fine-steering mirror.† Ball is the principal optical subcontractor for the Webb Telescope, led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems.
“Ball’s sophisticated mirror architecture will provide James Webb with the most advanced infrared vision of any space observatory ever launched by NASA,” said Robert Strain, Ball Aerospace president.
“A huge amount of teamwork was needed to meet the exacting requirements for the telescope’s optical design and we’re eager to see the results.”
The premier observatory for the next decade, James Webb will be stationed 1 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth ñ some four times farther away from us than the Moon. The Webb will be the most powerful space telescope ever built, able to detect the light from the first galaxies ever formed and explore planets around distant stars. †It will study every phase of our universe’s history, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of stellar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.
Ball began an incremental process of shipping the finished mirrors to Goddard in September 2012. The mirrors are housed in custom shipping containers designed specifically for the multiple cross-country trips the mirrors made through eight U.S. states during manufacturing. Each container is hermetically sealed to handle atmospheric pressure changes caused by shipping from high elevations such as Boulder to locations at or near sea level such as Greenbelt, Md.
In addition to the Webb telescope, Ball Aerospace has played a significant role in astrophysics and planetary missions including Kepler, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, the Cosmic Background Explorer, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the upcoming Sentinel Mission.