these inventions helped prove the engineering of the space telescope

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The James Webb Space Telescope it began its journey through the cosmos at the end of last year and on July 12 its first calibrated images were finally published. Even though his path has only just begun, the apparatus of POT has been under construction since 1989when much of the technology it uses did not yet exist.

The team that, for more than three decades, was in charge of developing the Webb was the one who invented technologies innovative ways to make it see places in space that previously seemed impossible to see.

It will be finished by the end of the decade.

The technology that keeps the Webb cool

Infrared radiation is emitted as heat and the telescope is infrared. The engineers had to get the instruments of the Webb kept as close to absolute zero (the lowest possible temperature) to test them.

Charlie Atkinson, chief engineer at Northrop Grumman, a company contracted by NASA to develop the telescope, explained for that they had to “prove that it meets their requirements” in space at cryogenic temperatures.

The Webb’s mirrors were made of a material that could withstand extreme cold without breaking. In addition, this had to be light, since his intention was to build a telescope almost 10 times larger than the Hubble. Finally, they settled on beryllium, a rare and light metal, which they covered with a thin layer of gold.

Engineers had to come up with a material that would withstand the cold temperatures of space.
Engineers had to come up with a material that would withstand the cold temperatures of space.

The team managed to create an entirely new way of making a very fine metal powder of pure beryllium called O-30-H withstand the temperatures of space. This material had to be adapted to make the Webb’s mirrors so they wouldn’t warp.

How did they achieve cryogenic temperatures on Earth?

In order to keep the telescope cool, engineers needed to block sunlight, and to do this, they built a giant parasol which Atkinson says was “one of the biggest challenges” they had.

The sunshade was the size of a tennis court, according to, and featured 5 layers made of a film called Kapton, each coated with aluminum. The two layers closest to the Sun they also had a layer of silicon on the side facing sunlight.

Additionally, the team had to make sure each layer was in the correct position. “If they were tilted any other way, the heat would be trapped,” Atkinson said. In this way, they reflected as much light and heat as possible back into space.

A structure where the Webb rested

The mirrors of the telescope had to be placed in a safe place, since a single break could jeopardize years of work. That’s why they made backplane, an important structure to keep the 18 segments of the mirror in a position that does not harm the material nor the image quality.

The blackplane had to merge two technologies, and as a result came what they called speckle pattern interferometry, which used lasers and video technology to measure how much the rough structure deformed in the cold. Atkinson details that they had to design “one technology to validate another technology.”

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