Officials at the Northrop Grumman Corporation announce that the communications support structure for the next-generation NASA James Webb Space Telescope has just passed a Critical Design Review.
The milestone maintains the development of the telescope, sunshield and spacecraft on track for a 2018 launch date. Northrop Grumman is under contract with the American space agency's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in Greenbelt, Maryland, to build most of the JWST.
The CSS is the structure that supports the massive telescope's data link to ground stations operated by NASA on Earth. Maintaining this connection at optimal parameters is difficult because the JWST will orbit in the L2 Lagrangian point, some 1.5 million kilometers away.
The idea here is to always maintain the spacecraft in the same relative position in regards to the Sun-Earth-Moon system. While in L2, the telescope can always maintain its tennis court-sized heatshield oriented towards the three bodies, preventing any stray light from entering its sensitive detectors.
With the new advancement, the communications support structure that will go on the actual spacecraft is now ready for fabrication. During the launch and the journey to L2, the purpose of the CSS will be to store the folded communications antennas JWST will use to phone home.
These antennas will only be deployed after the entire telescope unfolds in space. Given its massive size, engineers could not possibly fit the entire JWST in a single rocket. Therefore, they opted to fold it up. Contact with Earth is established via the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN).
“This progress represents a steady path forward on spacecraft subsystems,” explains Northrop Grumman
Aerospace Systems JWST Spacecraft Manager, Andy Cohen.
“We've accelerated the structural build of the spacecraft by four and a half months, and have completed qualification testing for the engineering model of the command and telemetry processor, our main onboard computer, responsible for all spacecraft operations and fine guidance of the telescope,” he adds.
In addition to the new CSS CDR, Northrop recently completed a preliminary design audit for the solar array that will power the spacecraft. The component can now move into the detailed design phase, while concluding with another in-depth assessment.
NASA is developing the JWST as a successor to the veteran Hubble Space Telescope, in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).