NASA’s Webb ‘Strutting its Stuff’

This test model of James Webb Space Telescope components shows a trio of struts supporting a placeholder secondary mirror prior to testing in a massive vacuum chamber at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

This test model of James Webb Space Telescope components shows a trio of struts supporting a placeholder secondary mirror prior to testing in a massive vacuum chamber at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

May 20, 2015 – The newest video in the “Behind the Webb” series, called “Strutting its Stuff,” provides a look at three “struts” or poles that fold and unfold the secondary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope.

The video series takes viewers behind the scenes to understand more about the Webb telescope, the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Designed to be the most powerful space telescope ever built, Webb will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and study unexplored planets around distant stars.

In “Strutting its Stuff,” Andy Carpenter, one of the mechanical integration engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, talks about how the mirrors will unfold. “We deploy three struts that are much like a tripod, and the secondary mirror will sit above the backplane.”

Because the Webb telescope is too large to fit into a rocket in its final shape, engineers have designed it to unfold like origami after its launch. That unfolding, or deployment, includes the mirrors on the observatory, too. The segmented primary mirror collects light from the cosmos and directs it to the secondary mirror, which sends it additional smaller mirrors before it reaches the cameras and spectrographs.

Technicians work with the secondary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope in a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Technicians work with the secondary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope in a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

The three struts are almost 25 feet long, yet are very strong and light-weight. They are hollow composite tubes, and the material is about 40-thousandths of an inch (about 1 millimeter) thick. They are built to withstand the temperature extremes of space.

During the video, viewers see a test of the struts being deployed in an environment that replicates the zero gravity of deep space.

The 3 minute and 32 second video was produced at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington. The “Behind the Webb” video series is available in HQ, large and small Quicktime formats, HD, large and small WMV formats, and HD, large and small Xvid formats.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific 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. JWST will see farther into the cosmos and further back in time than any other telescope.