Final layer of sunshield completed for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
NASA recently announced the completion of the fifth and final sunshield layer responsible for protecting the instruments and optics of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The sunshield, designed by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, will prevent heat from the Sun from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors.
The five membrane layers of the sunshield, designed and manufactured by NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, are each as thin as a human hair (approximately 0.08 to 0.12 mm). The fifth layer of the sunshield was delivered Sept. 29, 2016, to Northrop Grumman’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach.
The five layers of the sunshield work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 °F (299 °C). Each layer of the sunshield, made of kapton, is colder than the one below it.
“The completed sunshield membranes are the culmination of years of collaborative effort by the NeXolve, Northrop Grumman and NASA team,” said James Cooper, Webb telescope sunshield manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All five layers are beautifully executed and exceed their requirements. This is another big milestone for the Webb telescope project.”
Northrop Grumman, which also developed the JWST’s optics and spacecraft bus for NASA Goddard will integrate the five flight layers into the sunshield subsystem to conduct folding and deployment testing as part of the final system validation process.
“The groundbreaking sunshield design will assist in providing the imaging of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The delivery of this final flight sunshield membrane is a significant milestone as we prepare for 2018 launch.”
The deployed sunshield is about the size of a tennis court (68.9 by 47.5 feet or about 21 by 14.5 meters). The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style to fit inside the 16.4-foot (5-meter) fairing of an Ariane 5 rocket.
“The five tennis court-sized sunshield membranes took more than three years to complete and represents a decade of design, development and manufacturing,” said Greg Laue, sunshield program manager at NeXolve.
The JWST will be a large infrared telescope with a 21-foot (6.5-meter) primary mirror. The observatory will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide, studying every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first glows after the Big Bang to the formation of the Solar System.
The spacecraft will be launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in October 2018. JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSci) will operate the JWST after launch.
Video courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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.