James Webb Telescope Components Pass Tests

Development models for components of the Mid-Infrared Instrument on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) passed a series of temperature and vibration tests that show they can survive the ride to space. Now, engineers have begun building parts of the actual instrument.

The JWST will be the most sensitive infrared space telescope ever built. Its missions include seeing the farthest galaxies in the universe and the light of the first stars, studying young planetary systems, and looking for conditions suitable for life on planets around other stars.

This model of the MIRI detector (in green) is similar to the charge-coupled devices in digital cameras. It’s housed in the brick-like focal plane module. (NASA JPL-CalTech)
The Mid-Infrared Instrument is the telescope’s longest-wavelength instrument and will operate between mid-infrared wavelengths of 5 to 28.5 microns. It will be the most sensitive midinfrared detector ever flown in space. Infrared instruments are extremely sensitive to heat, so they must be kept icy cold. A refrigerator system onboard the JWST will chill the instrument down to temperatures as low as 7 Kelvin (or about -266 °C).

The instrument will have three detectors housed in insulated, brick-like structures called focal plane modules. The detectors have to be perfectly aligned within these brick structures, so that when the chill shrinks the various materials, they do not become misaligned. In addition to temperature threats, the focal plane modules will undergo extreme rattling and shaking during launch.

All three flight detectors have been delivered to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from Raytheon Vision Systems in Goleta, CA. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD is managing the overall development effort for the JWST.

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