Northrop Grumman, ATK complete flight backplane section of NASA's Webb Telescope


WASHINGTON, 25 April 2012. Engineers at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif., and ATK in Magna, Utah, have completed the center section of the backplane structure that will fly on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

Construction of the center section marks an important milestone in the telescope's hardware development. The backplane supports the telescope's beryllium mirrors, instruments, and thermal control systems.

Northrop Grumman won a contract from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to design and develop Webb's sunshield, telescope, and spacecraft. ATK manufactured 1,781 composite parts for the center section using lightweight graphite materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, says a company representative.

"Completing the center section of the backplane is an important step in completing the sophisticated telescope structure," explains Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for the Webb telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This fabrication success is the result of innovative engineering dating back to the technology demonstration phase of the program."

The center section is the primary mirror backplane support structure and the first of the three sections of the backplane to be completed. The center segment will hold Webb's 18-segment, 21-foot-diameter primary mirror virtually motionless. Measuring approximately 24 by 12 feet and weighing 500 pounds, the center section of the backplane meets thermal stability requirements.

The backplane holds the alignment of the telescope's optics through the rigors of launch and over a wide range of operating temperatures, which reach as cold as -406 degrees Fahrenheit. During science operations, the backplane precisely keeps the 18 primary mirror segments in place, permitting the mirrors to form a single shape to take sharp images.

The Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

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