Exelis engineers are helping build NASA's ultra-powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will provide unprecedented images of the universe's first stars and galaxies. Formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope, the space-based observatory recently was named after James E. Webb (1906-1992), NASA's second administrator. While Webb is best-known for leading the Apollo program and a series of lunar exploration programs, he also initiated a vigorous space science program, responsible for more than 75 launches during his tenure, including America's first interplanetary explorers.
As part of a Northrop Grumman-led team, Exelis is responsible for integrating components made by various members of the team to form the optical telescope element, which is the portion of the telescope that will collect light and provide sharp images of deep space. After this integration and the integration of the science instrument module, Exelis will perform a series of optical tests of the telescope at cryogenic temperatures to help ensure the optical telescope element will work properly in space.
Exelis also developed the Focal Plane Assembly package on the Near-Infrared Spectrograph detector which will measure the redshift, metallicity, and star information rate in first light galaxies.
The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST is slated for launch in 2018 and will take three months to travel 940,000 miles to a point in space where it will be balanced between the gravity of the Earth and the sun. The JWST is a large, infrared-optimized telescope designed to study the formation of the first stars and galaxies, the evolution of galaxies, the production of elements by stars, and the process of star and planet formation. The JWST will be located much farther from Earth than Hubble and will contain a tennis court-sized sun shade that will keep the telescope cold, which is necessary for viewing infrared light. The JWST will be packed inside and carried into orbit aboard an expendable launch vehicle.
JWST's Primary Mirror
JWST will have a much larger primary mirror than Hubble — 2.5 times larger in diameter, or about six times larger in area — and will be 1,000 times more sensitive in the infrared than Hubble. Although JWST's mirror will be significantly larger, the overall weight of the telescope will be significantly lighter than Hubble because of ultra-thin, ultra-lightweight mirror segments that were not available at the time Hubble was built.
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