Press Release

James Webb Space Telescope Marks Manufacturing Milestone

By SpaceRef Editor
August 23, 2005
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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) team completed the initial step in manufacturing all the primary mirrors for the next-generation space observatory’s telescope — an important program milestone. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE:NOC – News) is the prime contractor, leading the JWST design and development effort.

In the first major step, molten beryllium was compressed into 18 hexagonal units called “blanks,” weighing 553 pounds and measuring 1.5 meters (nearly five feet) from end-to-end. These blanks are now moving through the second step in the fabrication process, precision machining and etching.

The manufacturing process is being performed by Brush Wellman Inc. in Ohio, Axsys Technologies Inc. in Alabama and Tinsley Laboratories Inc. in California under contract to Northrop Grumman’s lead optical contractor, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Brush Wellman was responsible for the initial mirror manufacturing.

“The primary mirror is on the critical path for the JWST mission,” said Martin Mohan, JWST program manager at Northrop Grumman’s Space Technology sector. “Brush Wellman not only created the mirror blanks to very precise specifications, but also delivered the units ahead of schedule. This accomplishment helps to reduce the risk on this challenging program.”

Mirrors move through manufacturing in a process that takes about 53 months. Following blank production at Brush Wellman, the mirror segments are precision machined at Axsys Technologies. This step reduces the weight of each segment from 553 pounds to 46 pounds and puts the correct optical prescription on the mirror. The third, at Tinsley Laboratories, involves precision grinding and polishing of the optical surfaces. Finally, the mirrors are incorporated into optical assemblies and mounted on the telescope structure.

The Webb telescope features a 6.5-meter (20 feet) aperture primary mirror comprised of 18 beryllium segments and will be the largest deployable telescope ever launched. Beryllium, one of the lightest of all metals, was selected as the mirror technology for its demonstrated track record operating at cryogenic temperatures (around -370 degrees Fahrenheit) on space-based telescopes.

On orbit, JWST will peer into the infrared at great distances to search for answers to astronomers’ fundamental questions about the birth and evolution of galaxies, the size and shape of the universe and the mysterious life cycle of matter. The space-based observatory will reside in an orbit 940,000 miles from Earth at the L2 Lagrange point.

Northrop Grumman provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., Northrop Grumman employs 125,000 people worldwide.

SpaceRef staff editor.