Officials with the Boulder, Colorado-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation announced yesterday, September 19, that the first batch of the mirrors that NASA ordered for the James Webb Space Telescope has been shipped to the American space agency.
The event represents a significant milestone in the observatory's complex development schedule. At this point, the JWST is scheduled to launch towards the L2 Lagrangian point in Earth's orbit in 2018.
The first shipment of mirrors left Boulder on Friday, September 14, heading for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in Greenbelt, Maryland. This is the facility responsible for putting the telescope together, and for conducting final testing.
Ball Aerospace was put in charge of fabricating JWST's 18 unparalleled beryllium primary mirrors by the Northrop Grumman Corporation, which is the main contractor for the entire telescope project.
The Boulder company was subcontracted to handle the optical technology and lightweight mirror systems on the JWST. This includes the 18 hexagonal segments that will make up the telescope's main eyes. Two of these segments are en route to the GSFC now.
In order to ensure that the extremely delicate mirrors do not get damaged, they were individually packaged in custom-built containers. These were used multiple times, as the mirrors were manufactured and tested in eight states.
Over the next year, Ball Aerospace will continue to deliver pairs of mirrors to the GSFC, until all 16 are safely in Maryland. “Ball and its subcontractors have spent eight years tackling the rigorous requirements associated with JWST’s optical design,” David L. Taylor says.
“We are very proud to have answered the challenge posed by James Webb and look forward to this ground-breaking NASA science mission,” he adds. Taylor is the president and CEO of Ball Aerospace
Some of the other telescopes the company had a hand in creating include Kepler, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the upcoming Sentinel Mission.
However, JWST is the first telescope for civilian applications that features an actively controlled, segmented mirror architecture, where each of the eighteen, 1.3-meter segments is moved by its own actuator. This allows the main mirror to perform adaptive optics maneuver that minimize errors.