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Sunshield for NASA Telescope Ready for Manufacturing

Photonics.com
Sep 2013
REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Sept. 27, 2013 — The template layers of a tennis-court sized sunshield that will help protect the optics on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have been completed, marking the final step before the final flight sunshield will be manufactured.

Project partners Northrop Grumman Corp. and NeXolve Corp. manufactured the five template layers for the sunshield, which separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold anti-sun side. After completing a manufacturing readiness review, the team is now ready to produce the final flight layers.


The James Webb Space Telescope will be pointed so that the sun, Earth and moon are always on one side. The sunshield will act like a parasol, keeping the optics shaded and cool, and protecting them from the heat of the sun and warm spacecraft electronics. The sunshield will allow the telescope to cool down to a temperature below –223 °C by passively radiating its heat into space. Images courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.


The Webb Telescope will primarily observe IR light from faint and very distant objects, but in order to detect IR light, the optics must be cold. The sunshield passively cools the telescope to a temperature of –375 °F, preventing the observatory’s own heat from “blinding” its IR sensing instruments.

The sunshield membrane layers, each as thin as a human hair, are made of Kapton, a tough, high-performance plastic coated with a reflective metal. During orbit, the observatory will be positioned so that the sun, Earth and moon are always on one side, with the sunshield acting as an umbrella to shade the telescope mirrors and instruments from the warmer spacecraft electronics and the sun.

“Completion of manufacturing and shape-testing of all five template layers is a major accomplishment for the sunshield team,” said Greg Laue, NeXolve’s sunshield program manager. “The shape performance of the sunshield has matched our predictions and met initial objectives for the system.”


Technicians at Northrop Grumman’s Space Park facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., are conducting tests to ensure the Webb Telescope’s sunshield membrane layers meet flight performance requirements.


Northrop Grumman is under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the design and development of the Webb Telescope’s optics, sunshield and spacecraft. NeXolve is subcontractor to Northrop Grumman to manufacture the unique sunshield membranes.

The sunshield template layers, which have the same design and manufacturing processes as the final flight layers, have each been individually shape-tested to verify that they were built to requirements. As all five template layers are being subsequently tested at Northrop Grumman’s Space Park facilities to ensure the membranes meet flight performance requirements, NeXolve is beginning to manufacture the final flight layers.

For more information, visit: www.northropgrumman.com


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