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Orbital ATK ships fuel and oxidizer tanks for James Webb Space Telescope

Orbital ATK employees pose with fuel and oxidizer tanks for NASA's James Webb space Telescope. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK employees pose with fuel and oxidizer tanks for NASA’s James Webb space Telescope. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK announced on Tuesday that it has shipped the fuel and oxidizer tanks for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, for integration into the spacecraft’s propulsion system. The JWST, which is scheduled to be launched in 2018, will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

The tanks were shipped following a successful qualification testing program, which included pressurizing a tank to the point of failure. The tank’s Propellant Management Device (PMD), which is designed to provide gas-free propellant in a low-gravity environment and reduce residual movement of the telescope, was successfully slosh-tested for four hours to ensure survivability before being installed into the tanks.

“The design, manufacture and test of these tanks shows the commitment and expertise that we provide to our Northrop Grumman customer and ultimately, NASA,” said David Shanahan, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s SCD. “We are proud that our work contributes to the James Webb Space Telescope program; the ultimate reward is delivering a high-quality product to the mission.”

The two tanks were designed and manufactured in an Orbital ATK facility in Commerce, California, which has produced tanks for many NASA missions as well as commercial and military launch vehicles and spacecraft. The slosh-damping PMD was designed by PMD Technology and manufactured by Orbital ATK  specifically for the JWST.

“The delivery of the JWST propellant tanks showed exemplary collaboration between ATK, Northrop Grumman and NASA and accomplished a significant milestone in our Spacecraft build and test program,” said Andy Cohen, Director and JWST Spacecraft Manager for Northrop Grumman.

The JWST will have a 6.5 meter (approximately 21 feet) primary mirror and will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. It will be launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in October 2018. The JWST will orbit the Sun 1.5 million kilometers (about 1 million miles) away from Earth at what is called the second Lagrange point, or L2. This orbit will allow the telescope to stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun. This positioning will help the spacecraft’s large sunshield protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun, Earth, and Moon.

The JWST will begin science operations about six months after launching. The JWST will be able to image distant stars and galaxies that formed billions of years ago. It will also be able to discover and study planetary systems similar to our own, analyze the chemical composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets, and directly image Jupiter-size planets orbiting nearby stars.

Video courtesy of NASA


Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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