First Sunshield Layer Completed For NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

In this photo, engineers and scientists examine the sunshield layers on a full-sized test unit. Image Credit: Alex Evers/Northrop Grumman Corporation

In this photo, engineers and scientists examine the sunshield layers on a full-sized test unit. Image Credit: Alex Evers/Northrop Grumman Corporation

August 12, 2015 – The first of the five sunshield layers that will make it possible for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to image the formation of stars and galaxies created more than 13.5 billion years ago, was delivered to Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Space Park facility April 24.

The sunshield on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is the largest part of the observatory — five individual layers of thin, silvery Kapton that must unfurl reliably in space. The precision in which the tennis-court sized sunshield has to open must be no more than a few centimeters different from its planned position.

The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold side, effectively reducing the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each successive layer of the sunshield is cooler than the one below, preventing the interference of background heat with the telescope’s infrared sensor. The infrared instruments need to be kept very cold (under -370 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 K) to operate.

In addition to providing a cold environment, the sunshield provides a thermally stable environment. This stability is essential to maintaining proper alignment of the primary mirror segments as the telescope changes its orientation to the sun.

“Through extensive testing we have proven that the innovative sunshield design works,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “We are thrilled to receive the first flight layer from NeXolve as we prepare for 2018 launch.”

NeXolve is manufacturing the other four layers and will individually shape-test each to ensure they meet requirements. This delivery to Northrop Grumman signifies the beginning of final flight hardware completion for the sunshield. Next, Northrop Grumman will integrate the final flight layers into the sunshield subsystem, to conduct folding and deployment testing as part of the final system validation process.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being developed by Lockheed Martin, under contract with the University of Arizona. NIRCam is the primary science camera on JWST, and also functions as the sensor that is used to align the observatory’s primary mirror, built by Ball Aerospace. 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.

Northrop Grumman is designing the Webb Telescope’s optics, sunshield and spacecraft for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland Innovative sunshield membranes are being designed and manufactured by NeXolve Corporation, a subsidiary of ManTech International Corporation (NASDAQ: MANT) of Huntsville, Alabama.