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Webb Telescope Tech Spinning Off

Photonics.com
Apr 2012
GREENBELT, Md., April 30, 2012 — A stitching technique that improves large asphere measurement and wavefront sensing for the measurement of eye health are among four commercial applications to have spun off new technologies developed for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

The Webb Telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. As the most powerful space telescope ever built, it will provide images of the first galaxies and explore planets around distant stars. Much of the technology for the telescope had to be conceived, designed and built specifically to enable it to see farther back in time.

Now those technologies have been adapted and applied to commercial applications for the optics, aerospace, astronomy, medical and materials industries.


September 2009 artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Image: NASA)

The stitching technique was commercialized by QED Technologies of Rochester, N.Y., through a Small Business Innovation Research award (SBIR) from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. QED upgraded and enhanced its stitching technology for aspheres with the development of the SSI-A and the aspheric stitching interferometer. The new equipment can be applied to advanced optics in cameras, medical scopes, telescopes, binoculars, microscopes and photolithography.

In the aerospace and astronomy industry, 4D Technology of Tucson, Ariz., used the Webb technology to develop the PhaseCam interferometer system, which measures the quality of the telescope’s mirror segments in a cryogenic vacuum environment. The development is a new way of using interferometers in the aerospace industry. The interferometer can be used to evaluate future mirrors that must be tested in vacuum chambers where vibration is a problem.


The PhaseCam is measuring an optic inside an environmental chamber. (Image: Ball Aerospace Boulder Colorado)

AMO WaveFront Sciences LLC of Albuquerque, N.M., employed the technology to develop the Scanning Shack Hartmann sensor wavefront measurement device. The new wavefront sensing technology has led to spinoffs in the medical industry to precisely measure the human eye for diagnosing ocular diseases and for surgery improvements. The Webb improvements have enabled eye doctors to gather more detailed information about the shape and topography of the eye in seconds rather than hours.

The telescope’s technologies also have opened the door to better measurement in testing the strength of composite materials. 4D Technology developed technology that measures not only strain in composite materials, but also step heights in precision machine surfaces, and another for high-speed wavefront detection.

The Webb technologies have not only offered critical components for commercial applications, but also have proved beneficial to the economy. 4D Technology adapted the technologies to grow its company from a two-man startup to one with more than 35 employees.

In the future, other Webb telescope technologies may benefit additional industries. Technologies can be explored for use and licensed through NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist at Goddard Space Flight Center.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov  


GLOSSARY
interferometer
An instrument that employs the interference of lightwaves to measure the accuracy of optical surfaces; it can measure a length in terms of the length of a wave of light by using interference phenomena based on the wave characteristics of light. Interferometers are used extensively for testing optical elements during manufacture. Typical designs include the Michelson, Twyman-Green and Fizeau interferometers. The basic interferometer components are a light source, a beamsplitter, a reference...
photolithography
A lithographic technique using an image produced by photography for printing on a print-nonprint, sectioned surface.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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