After 20 years of development, NASA has officially finished construction of its James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – the largest space telescope ever made. The telescope, which is viewed by many as a successor to the Hubble, was the result of a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In total, fifteen countries were involved in building the JWST.
NASA says that using Webb’s infrared vision will help scientists look back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe.
“Unprecedented infrared sensitivity will help astronomers to compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and ellipticals, helping us to understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years,” NASA wrote. “Webb will see behind cosmic dust clouds to see where stars and planetary systems are being born. It will also help reveal information about atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, and perhaps even find signs of the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe.”
The telescope’s mirror consists of 18 primary segments mounted on a composite backplane structure. One of the material suppliers for the backplane was Hexcel, which offered its HexPly® 954-6 cyanate ester/carbon fiber prepreg for the project. According to Hexcel, the JWST requires very tight tolerance structure to enable the high-performance pictures and HexPly® prepreg helps meet the requirements of the design.
The telescope also contains an Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) – a framework that provides electrical power, computing resources, cooling capability as well as structural stability to the Webb telescope. The ISIM is made with Orbital ATK’s bonded graphite-epoxy composites, which are attached to the underside of Webb’s telescope structure. The ISIM holds the four science instruments and a guide camera. In 2009, NASA said the JWST application is the first time that this composite material has been used as a cryogenic optical metering structure.
“This may be the last [space] telescope that we build that is not modular,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a press conference on JWST.
The next steps in the process for NASA are to attach the telescope to a sunshield and spacecraft and begin testing. It is on pace to launch October 2018.