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SPIE Professional July 2016

JWST science instruments installed

With surgical precision, two dozen NASA engineers and technicians installed the package of science instruments for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) into the telescope structure in May. The cameras and spectrographs will record the light to be collected by Webb’s giant golden mirror.

“There are vital instruments in this package from Europe and Canada as well as the US, and we are so proud that everything is working so beautifully, 20 years after we started designing our observatory,” said SPIE Fellow and Nobel Laureate John Mather, the project scientist for the JWST.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment for our worldwide team," Mather said.

Nearly four months of cryogenic testing and monitoring of the science instruments were completed in March. Now that the telescope structure, instruments, and mirrors (covered in a microscopically thin layer of gold for optimum reflecting of infrared light) have been assembled, the combination will go through vibration and acoustic tests to ensure the whole science payload will withstand the conditions of launch.

The JWST is the scientific successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will study the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets similar to Earth as well as the evolution of our own solar system.

Scientists from around the world will use this unique observatory to also capture images and spectra of a full range of astronomical sources such as star-forming nebulae, exoplanets, and even moons and planets within our own Solar System.

Each mirror segment, about the size of a coffee table and weighing approximately 20 kilograms (46 pounds), were formed out of beryllium. The fully assembled mirror is larger than any rocket, so the two sides of it fold up. Behind each mirror are several motors so that the team can focus the telescope out in space.

The JWST project is led by NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency. The target launch date is in 2018.

For more information: jwst.nasa.gov

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201607.07

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